Cue the Benjamin Franklin quote about balancing freedom and security; the National Security Agency’s mass surveillance program is once again ?under scrutiny.
Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives did something rather astounding which has long been considered impossible in modern political times — they passed a meaningful bill with broad bipartisan support.
We know, we are as shocked as you are, but even more surprisingly, that’s not even the biggest story here — plus, don’t worry, the Senate still has plenty of time to screw the whole thing up, and it looks as if they will.
The most important part of this story, though, is that the House passed a bill, called the USA Freedom Act, which would reauthorize most provisions of the 2001 USA Patriot Act while also making the NSA’s mass collection of phone metadata ?explicitly illegal.
Let’s assume, given both the political cost of allowing the Patriot Act to expire and the often-hysterical hawkishness of some in the Republican establishment, we leave that debate for another day and focus just on the NSA’s efforts in ?particular.
In the eyes of the Editorial Board there is no denying that the NSA’s collection of phone data from American citizens is both an unwarranted invasion of privacy and likely an ?unnecessary one as well.
The question then becomes whether there is any salvaging of the program altogether or if the compromise set forth by the House bill, which is also supported by the Obama administration, is sufficient. The bill, while making the mass collection of data by the NSA illegal, does not entirely end ?the program.
Currently, according to the Washington Post, the NSA collects data from phone companies on a daily basis and only needs a judge’s approval to search the data more thoroughly when it believes there may be a connection to terrorist activity. This bill would take ?control of the data away from the government while still providing the NSA with a narrow means of legally acquiring data it can prove is needed to ?investigate legitimate suspicions.
The Obama administration and the bill’s supporters in Congress call it a reasonable compromise, but is it really enough? Moving control of the data from the NSA back to the telecommunications companies was certainly the right move, but the intelligence community has already shown a willingness to bend the rules in their favor and operate with little to no public or Congressional oversight.
While questions remain about the sturdiness of this policy, it is certainly a step in the right direction. While Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., — who recently announced his own candidacy for President — may fear this puts us “behind the threat,” as he says, the ?process established in the law is both comprehensive and relatively transparent. In today’s political climate, that unfortunately is about all we can expect.