Recycled security policy evades reform

Recycled security  policy evades reform

Andy Slaven

The NSA: The only part of the government that actually listens (along with the CIA and FBI). While a potentially overused joke, it does have a scary truth to it. Today marks the 16th anniversary of the Patriot Act and if it pleases the crown, I would enjoy some privacy.

For those who don’t know, the Patriot Act covered many aspects of law enforcement including immigration, funding for counter-terrorist operations and surveillance.

Specifically, the act gave authority to indefinitely detain immigrants, search private property without the owner’s consent or knowledge, and expand the use of FBI searches of telephone, email and financial records without a court order. Several of the provisions were set to expire under a “sunset.” However, the reauthorization of the Patriot Act in 2006 made 14 of the 16 provisions permanent.

Following Edward Snowden’s leaks of NSA documents, Congress did not approve another reauthorization in 2015. Instead, the USA Freedom Act was passed, which included three of the most controversial aspects of the Patriot Act until 2019.

Additionally, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), passed in 1978 (amended in 2008 and later pertained to leaks by Snowden), was broadened under the Patriot Act to allow targets of surveillance to be American (Section 702) and allows for warrantless collection of data that can be used to imprison people. This section of FISA is set to expire at the end of the year and reauthorization discussions are occurring now.

Terrifyingly enough, these are only a small fraction of techniques being used in a national crisis of police surveillance. For example, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) identified 72 federal agencies in 24 states and the District of Columbia that have mimicking cell towers, called StingRays, that allow law enforcement to track phones and collect information on the whereabouts of citizens.

The last sixteen years beg the question: where is the Fourth Amendment?

The FBI can obtain personal information without a judge’s approval, the NSA collected mass information with unchecked power even after it was ruled that it violated the Fourth Amendment (twice) and law enforcement agencies around the country are using facial recognition software. That explains why George Orwell’s 1984 sales have skyrocketed since Snowden’s leaks.

You may ask yourself, “So what exactly is the issue? I have nothing to hide.”

Historically, look at who has been on the receiving end of law enforcement surveillance: “Communists, civil rights leaders, feminists, Quakers, folk singers, [and] war protesters,” as the CATO Institute words it. In other terms, people who don’t fit the status quo the government desires.

There are countless stories of innocent people being targeted by government agencies for “suspected terrorism” when in reality they are simply being abused by mass surveillance.

It’s an extremely unchecked system that will have immeasurable repercussions. We are still unsure how many citizens are affected under Section 702 in FISA because current and former administrations will not release the information to legislatures.

The next reasoning is probably, “I’m willing to risk some privacy for less terrorist attacks.”

However, only looking at the use of the Patriot Act between 2003 and 2005, the FBI made fifty-three criminal referrals to prosecutors as a result of 143,074 National Security Letters (what the FBI uses to obtain personal information without a judge’s approval), according to the ACLU. Seventeen of these were for money laundering, seventeen relating to immigration and nineteen involved fraud. Zero were for terrorism.