New Bipartisan Bill Aims to Dismantle PATRIOT Act and End Domestic Spying

Three provisions of the PATRIOT Act are set to expire on June 1: Section 215, the “Lone Wolf” provision, and the “Roving Wiretap” provision. While some lawmakers will insist on renewing these provisions, Americans generally oppose the surveillance programs justified in the law and Congress is divided between reform and renewal.

A new bill was recently introduced that would repeal both the PATRIOT Act and the 2008 FISA Amendments Act.

The Surveillance State Repeal Act was introduced on March 24 by U.S. Representatives Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) and Thomas Massie (R-Ky.). The bill proposes a comprehensive repeal of the PATRIOT Act and the termination of domestic NSA spying programs.

Pocan said in a press release that the Surveillance State Repeal Act “ends the NSA’s dragnet surveillance practices, while putting provisions in place to protect the privacy of American citizens through real and lasting change.”

In addition to removing several other programs in the PATRIOT Act and the 2008 FISA Amendments Act, Section 215 is specifically targeted as it justifies one of the more invasive programs utilized by the NSA. Section 215 allows the NSA to exhaustively collect and retain phone records for extensive periods of time. These records include the dates and times of calls and the identity of each party, but not the content of the conversations.

The other provisions set to expire include the “Lone Wolf” provision and the “Roving Wiretap” provision.

The “Lone Wolf” provision expands the definition of “an agent of foreign power” to include any non-U.S. citizen who “engages in international terrorism or activities in preparation therefore.” This extends beyond the previous requirement that an individual must be connected to a “foreign power or entity” to qualify as an agent of a foreign power.

The “Roving Wiretap” provision amends a part of Section 105 of FISA that describes the people that can assist in collecting information about a specified individual.

“If Section 215 (of the law which covers the collection) sunsets, we will not continue the bulk telephony metadata program,” said National Safety Council spokesperson Ned Price in a statement to Reuters.

However, he also acknowledges that “[a]llowing Section 215 to sunset would result in the loss… of a critical national security tool…” and that the administration has the ability to use a legal loophole to continue collecting these records, but they will not use it.

In order to prevent the looming “sunset” of 215 and the other expiring parts of the PATRIOT Act, Congress would need to pass legislation that would renew each provision. However, the Legislative Branch is fairly divided on the issue.

(The Surveillance State Repeal Act) ends the NSA’s dragnet surveillance practices, while putting provisions in place to protect the privacy of American citizens...
U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.)
In November 2014, the USA FREEDOM Act
was blocked from going to the floor by all but four Senate Republicans and one Democrat. The FREEDOM Act was a set of reforms for FISA, including an amendment that would have established a new process for using the powers allotted in Section 215.

There are still plenty of lawmakers who view the PATRIOT Act and the FISA Amendments Act as vital to the nation’s security and therefore are reluctant to support any bill that would alter these laws in any way.

The FREEDOM Act received enough support to pass the House in May 2014 after being severely watered down. The Surveillance State Repeal Act would end controversial measures in the PATRIOT Act and FISA Amendments Act completely, which means that it is likely to get less support in Congress despite growing public support for such a bill.

A Gallup poll conducted in January 2015 asked participants to rate government surveillance of U.S. citizens on a scale ranging from “Very Satisfied” to “Very Dissatisfied.” Only 8 percent of participants reported that they were “Very Satisfied” with government surveillance, with 23 percent “Somewhat Satisfied.” The plurality of participants, 34 percent, reported feeling “Very Dissatisfied” with government surveillance.

The Surveillance State Repeal Act has 5 cosponsors and, according to the Library of Congress, is currently in committee. Whether or not the committee will actually take up the bill remains to be seen.

 Photo Credit: Carsten Reisinger