NSA spying won’t be stopped by ending of a law that never authorized it.
Conor Friedersdorf wrote an interesting analysis at the Atlantic: “The Weird End of the NSA’s Phone Dragnet.”
In the wee hours of Saturday morning, the U.S. Senate played host to a moment that took mass surveillance on the phone records of Americans from outrage to farce.
The NSA’s phone dragnet had already been declared illegal.
Earlier this month, a federal appeals court ruled that while the surveillance agency has long claimed to be acting in accordance with Section 215 of the Patriot Act, the text of that law in fact authorizes no such program. The Obama Administration has been executing a policy that the legislature never passed into being.
I’ll skip a lot of interesting stuff to get to the punch line. Friedersdorf suggests that the Patriot Act will expire due to gridlock and that, as a result, the NSA will stop its illegal spying (see below for my opinion on this possibility).
That happy outcome aside, there’s a farcical aspect to the process.
There’s a program that Congress never approved. The House weirdly had to vote to get rid of it. They did so. But the Senate had to follow suit, voting to get rid of the program that they never passed. And they failed even though 57 Senators were in favor. So an illegal program will continue, despite majorities in both houses of Congress casting votes to end what they never began. And the only reason their failure doesn’t matter is that legal provisions that don’t in fact authorize the program will soon expire. And then it will end. What a strange democracy we’ve got.
And despite massive and ongoing violations of citizens’ Constitutional rights, no one at the NSA (or anywhere else in the bureaucracy) will go to jail, be fined, or even lose a moment’s sleep.
Yet somehow we are to believe that, just because a law that never authorized the Constitutional violations in the first place expires June 1, the NSA will now stop their illegal activities.
Uh huh… right… and why would they do that? What was the penalty for their actions? Why would they stop now, given that there are no repercussions?