On June 1, the U.S. Senate allowed three provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act to expire. A few days later Congress enacted, and the President signed the USA Freedom Act, which introduced modest reforms to NSA mass surveillance. Everyone involved recognized that the bill was only a small reform. What’s next? What can Congress do to roll back unwarranted surveillance?
The answer is the Surveillance State Repeal Act (HR 1466), introduced by Representatives Mark Pocan (D-WI) and Thomas Massie (R-KY). True to its name, the bill would repeal the two most notorious post-9/11 dragnet-surveillance laws and overhaul the National Security Agency’s domestic surveillance program. It’s an exceptionally strong and comprehensive bill supported by many civil-liberties organizations, including the Defending Dissent Foundation. In addition to repealing both the USA PATRIOT Act and the FISA Amendments Act, HR 1466 would reinstate a uniform standard requiring warrants based on probable cause for surveillance requests, and prohibit the federal government from forcing technology companies to build hardware or software “back doors” that allow its agencies to bypass encryption or privacy technology. The bill includes some legal protections for national-security whistleblowers, as well as changes to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to give it greater expertise in reviewing and challenging executive-branch applications for surveillance operations.
“The warrantless collection of millions of personal communications from innocent Americans is a direct violation of our constitutional right to privacy,” Rep. Pocan said in a statement. “Revelations about the NSA’s programs reveal the extraordinary extent to which the program has invaded Americans’ privacy. I reject the notion that we must sacrifice liberty for security—we can live in a secure nation which also upholds a strong commitment to civil liberties. This legislation ends the NSA’s dragnet surveillance practices, while putting provisions in place to protect the privacy of American citizens through real and lasting change.” “The Patriot Act contains many provisions that violate the Fourth Amendment and have led to a dramatic expansion of our domestic surveillance state,” said Rep. Massie. “Our Founding Fathers fought and died to stop the kind of warrantless spying and searches that the Patriot Act and the FISA Amendments Act authorize. It is long past time to repeal the Patriot Act and reassert the constitutional rights of all Americans. I am proud to cosponsor Congressman Pocan’s bill and look forward to working with him on this issue.”
This bill was first introduced in 2013 by then-Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ) who has since retired. The New York Times editorial board urged Congress to pass it, primarily because of provisions prohibiting government “back doors” to bypass encryption. The Surveillance State Repeal Act, H.R. 1466, offers a complete repeal of the 2001 PATRIOT Act, which the NSA has cited as the legal basis for its phone metadata-harvesting surveillance program. It would also repeal the FISA Amendments Act, which contains provisions for email data-harvesting, while overhauling the NSA’s domestic surveillance program. Additionally, the bill would make retaliation against federal national-security whistleblowers illegal, and ensure that any FISA collection against a U.S. person takes place only pursuant to a valid warrant based on probable cause.