Yesterday the Senate passed the USA Freedom Act by a 67-32 vote, after rejecting several attempts to weaken it. President Obama signed the bill into law last night.
During the debate, several Senators noted that this law would never have passed without Edward Snowden’s revelations about mass surveillance. They are correct. Before the public found out that the government was using Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act to collect “substantially all” of American’s call detail records, Congress regularly renewed the program with little or no debate. Afterwards, it passed the most meaningful reforms to surveillance in decades. Before the 215 bulk collection program was disclosed, it could only be reviewed by a secret court that only heard arguments from the government; afterwards, the Second Circuit ruled that the entire program was illegal.
That is the difference that public disclosure makes—and why the USA Freedom Act’s provisions requiring more government reporting on the use of its surveillance authority, and declassification of Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court opinions, were so essential. OpenTheGovernment.org applauds the efforts of all the members of Congress and their staffs who worked so diligently to ensure that they were included in the bill.
But despite their hard work, the American public still will not know nearly enough about the intelligence community’s use of other surveillance authorities, such as section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act and Executive Order 12333, for meaningful democratic debate or judicial review of those provisions. That urgently needs to change.