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The Patriot Act Doesn't Need to be Reformed -- It Needs to Expire

by Steve Stokes, published

The USA Freedom Act is scheduled to be reconsidered by the U.S. Senate on Sunday, May 31, 2015. H.R. 2048 is the first major foreign intelligence legislation to clear either house of Congress since Edward Snowden’s revelations that the National Security Agency (NSA) was surveilling American citizens.

The USA Freedom Act extends Section 215 of the Patriot Act. The unwarranted surveillance of American citizens has created an environment where many patriotic, law-abiding citizens now mistrust their government. It has done nothing to keep Americans safer. We spend enormous time and resources amassing and analyzing huge amounts of data, diverting resources that can be better used on human intelligence.

Rather than extend Patriot Act provisions, Congress should pursue meaningful NSA surveillance reform to protect our Bill of Rights and our tech industry.

Much of the vote for the USA Freedom Act in the House was from voices for true reform that saw it as the only vehicle available for advancing some change. These representatives accepted incremental reform at the cost of a four-year Patriot Act extension. When it comes to programs that clearly violate any ordinary reading of the Constitution, we should not just alter the structure of the program -- we must end the program.

Individuals behave one way when they are natural and relaxed in private moments. They act quite differently when they know they are being watched. This surveillance has altered the actions and expectations of millions of innocent American citizens. Ordinary, patriotic, law-abiding citizens are now fearful of their government. This is not the America that was envisioned by our founding fathers.

Many of those concerned with effecting positive change in our country are concerned that the investigative powers of the U.S. have in the past been turned against peaceful reformers like Martin Luther King Jr.

The vibrancy of a free people is what has given Americans the unbridled sense of optimism which fuels our enterprise, creativity, and innovation. That sense of true freedom has been robbed by the unconstitutional and pervasive capture of the communications of all our citizens.

The USA Freedom Act was crafted and passed by the House of Representatives before the Second Circuit ruled that the Patriot Act does not authorize the government's bulk telephone metadata collection program. The court ruled that an informed robust debate and explicit statutory authorization would be required for the court to accept that a program of this magnitude had been authorized by Congress. Since the court was able to rule against the program on statutory grounds, it did not address the constitutional concerns.

With a flawed interpretation of the Patriot Act, the NSA has illegally spent billions of dollars in violating the civil liberties of millions of American citizens. They have undermined faith in America's tech industry, costing billions more dollars to our economy. The NSA cannot show a single attack that has been thwarted by this program. This surveillance is instead used against American citizens in domestic crime investigations.

We must allow the provisions of Section 215 to sunset. A fully informed and robust debate on mass surveillance can be resumed by the full Congress if these powers can be demonstrated necessary to our national security. Those responsible for the illegal interpretations of the law and the resulting damage to the economy and reputation of the United States must not go unpunished lest this encourages further mass violations of the civil liberties of American citizens.

The American people want representatives who are not beholden to the intelligence establishment that instituted NSA surveillance, but will uphold our Constitution and return America to a position of moral authority.

Photo Credit: bluebay /

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