Reviving the Patriot Act

Even as talk about the expiry of various parts of the USA Patriot Act was taking place, the background was never going to move that much. Assumptions of security — or its other side, paralytic insecurity — are so entrenched in the complex of power that they tend to win out. Empires on the run tend to seek ways of affirming their demise.

That said, media outlets would speak about how, “For the first time since the September 11, 2001 attack triggered a massive US counterterrorism response, the US Congress is curtailing the broad electronic spying authority given to the National Security Agency” (Al Jazeera, Jun 2). Had Edward Snowden’s revelations from 2013 on warrantless mass surveillance won the day?

Elizabeth Goitein, co-director of the Liberty and National Security Project at the Brennan Centre for Justice at New York University slipped into hyperbole in thinking so, calling it “a new day. We haven’t seen anything like this since 9/11.” The vote came in at a convincing 67-32 for the panacea coated USA Freedom Act, a term that says as much about the fetishistic nature of freedom in US legislation as it does about its illusions. If freedom needs to be mentioned in text, you know the political taxidermist is getting ready to stuff it into a cabinet.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit’s ruling handed down last month had put the skids under the bulk collection of phone metadata, providing impetus for the legislation specifically on the issue of section 215 and the NSA’s collection of domestic calling records. In American Civil Liberties v Clapper, the bench found that the bulk collection of every American’s telephone metadata was illegal. The court, however, seemed to lob the issue of bulk collection by the NSA back into the corridors of Congress for deliberation.

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