On May 7th, after a near two year ordeal, the ACLU successfully won their case against James Clapper, the head of the National Security Agency. The second circuit court ruled that section 215 of the patriot act, concerning bulk telephone record collections, was abused by the US government by interpreting the term ‘relevant’ as literally every phone record in the United States.
This means any further reauthorizations of the Patriot Act will now have to include new wording to justify broader powers, something only congress can do, or the Supreme Court will have to throw the ruling out. Given the political climate right now (and the absurdity of SCOTUS disagreeing), it seems that the current ruling of ACLU vs Clapper will hold.
Little and non-existent, progress by civil liberties advocates deserves celebration. This court ruling marks a significant turn in the tide against government surveillance, and gives optimism that change may feasibly be possible on some tangible and meaningful level. I, however, remain in the camp of pessimists, because it seems for every step forward made, the government takes another 10 backwards.
Just recently, the House of Representatives passed the Orwellian ‘USA Freedom Act’, which proponents claim will curtail NSA surveillance. However, the biggest advocates of civil liberties in the house, like Justin Amash(R-MI), opposed the bill because it provides the institutional framework necessary for the surveillance the ACLU vs Clapper ruling stopped. The bill was debated for less than an hour on the floor and no amendments were allowed. Furthermore, the bill ignores several other techniques and tools used by the intelligence community to spy on citizens world wide.
As the bill moves to the Senate, presidential hopeful Rand Paul vows to filibuster any attempts at extending the Patriot Act without reforming the NSA. I am not holding my breath. In a few weeks, we will be crossing the two year anniversary of Edward Snowden’s leaks and I question what progress we have to look back on.