Signed into law by George Bush in 2006 following the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, the Patriot Act became one of the initial building blocks that would lead to the propagation of many and varied US-led mass surveillance programmes, such as the Boundless Informant and XKEYSCORE.
The Patriot Act enabled the increased use of wiretaps by government agencies on US citizens, as well as global communications to be monitored, collected and stored. Designed to deter terrorist acts not only in the US but also around the world, the Patriot Act was – within weeks of the 9/11 attacks – passed in the House of Representatives by 357-66 and the Senate by 98-1. Specifically, Section 215 of the Patriot Act forms the legal foundation for the National Security Agency (NSA) case of daily mass collection of US phone metadata. Enter the USA Freedom Act – a bill designed to reign in the NSA’s bulk collection of such data. After an all-night vote in the Senate, the Freedom Act was rejected by a margin of 57-42; just 3 votes more and the threshold to allow the Act to move forward would have been reached.
Public and political discourse surrounding the controversial program is piquing however, implying that widespread fall-out and public outcry is very likely, following the recent breaking news. Rand Paul, the Kentucky Senator, made the headlines following a 10-hour faux-filibuster, arguing against the renewal of the Patriot Act. One such phrase used during his speech resonated with the media and public alike;
“There comes a time in the history of nations when fear and complacency allow power to accumulate and liberty and privacy to suffer. This is today.”
Opinions are split in the House but, according to a recent Guardian poll, this sentiment is not mirrored by the US public; of 1,001 potential voters surveyed 82% were seen to be ‘concerned’ about governmental collection of personal communications data. Edward Snowden, the sole whistle-blower who brought the controversial and illegal NSA programs to the public’s attention back in June 2013 hosted an AMA (Ask Me Anything) on Reddit earlier this week. Here, Snowden urged users to take action, to pick up the phone and ring Senators and members of Congress in order to drum up support in favour of endorsing the Freedom Act and repealing the Patriot Act.
Following the blocking of the USA Freedom Act in the Senate, the next bill to be voted upon will be the reauthorisation of the Patriot Act. If the Patriot Act fails at this stage, the NSA would be forced to begin winding down the mass collection of US phone records. With the House currently recessed until 1st June, there is all to play for.
To find out more about the Acts discussed please visit the following:
To read Edward Snowden’s recent AMA visit Reddit.