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On The Front Lines

Rutherford Institute Warns Senate That USA FREEDOM Act Will Do More Damage Than Good, Calls for More Effective Restraints on NSA Surveillance

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Calling the expiration of Section 215 of the Patriot Act, cited as the legal authority for the National Security Agency’s (NSA) domestic surveillance program, an historic opportunity to not only end the government’s unconstitutional practice but rein in the NSA, The Rutherford Institute is cautioning the United States Senate against adopting the proposed USA FREEDOM Act as a legislative solution because it could do more damage than good.

In a letter urging members of the U.S. Senate to take action to stop the pervasive surveillance of citizens by the government, Rutherford Institute president John W. Whitehead points out that the USA FREEDOM Act would actually reauthorize Section 215 of the Patriot Act while failing to end other programs the government is using to collect information about individuals without a warrant. Moreover, Whitehead points out that the USA FREEDOM Act does not prevent government surveillance; it merely delegates it to communication services providers.

“While the USA FREEDOM Act has been hailed as a step in the right direction, it amounts to little more than a paper tiger: threatening in appearance, but lacking any real bite. Indeed, the Act endangers the cause of citizen privacy by creating a false impression that Congress has taken steps to prevent the government from spying on the telephone calls of citizens, while in fact ensuring the NSA’s ability to continue invading the privacy and security of Americans,” said constitutional attorney John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute and author of Battlefield America: The War on the American People. “As long as government agencies are allowed to make a mockery of the law—be it the Constitution, the FISA Act or any other law intended to limit their reach and curtail their activities—and are permitted to operate behind closed doors, relaying on secret courts, secret budgets and secret interpretations of the laws of the land, there can be no true reform.”

In the wake of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the United States government sought to enhance security by adopting the Patriot Act, which included authorization for indefinite detention of immigrants, the use of National Security Letters to conduct searches without court orders, and other intrusions into the liberty and privacy of citizens. Section 215 of the Patriot Act expanded the authority of the government to seek orders from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court for the production of any “tangible thing” related to a person suspected of being agents of foreign governments. Subsequent amendments to Section 215 further expanded the government’s authority to seek the production of tangible things “relevant to an authorized investigation,” and the government seized on these provisions as authorizing court orders allowing the collection of data about virtually all telephone calls made to or from the United States.

Although Section 215 contained provisions for its expiration, it was continually reauthorized by Congress through June 1, 2015. After the collection of data was revealed by Edward Snowden in June 2013, some in Congress sought to limit the government’s spying on telephone calls under Section 215. Legislative action increased after a federal appeals court ruled in May 2015 that the bulk collection of data exceeded the authority for spying granted by Section 215. In mid-May, the House of Representatives passed the USA FREEDOM Act, which was initially defeated in the Senate but is pending reconsideration in light of the expiration of Section 215.


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