By Mark Linnhoefer
International Affairs Desk Correspondent
The USA Freedom Act has passed and been signed by Obama. Not surprising, as he announced prior to its passing that he deems this piece of legislation as a milestone to “ensure the privacy and civil liberties of the American people”. I’m not sure he read the thing, to be honest.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, shall we? The USA Freedom Act is, after all, the largest and undoubtedly most important surveillance reform bill since 1978 and is supposedly aimed at completely stopping the bulk telephone surveillance and data collection of the American people. Well… This act being the biggest reform to American intelligence agencies since the 70’s just goes to show how little has ever been done to rein in those spying on essentially anyone connected to the internet in one way or another. On its face, this bill does hinder all those damned three-letter-agencies from collecting telephone data from people not tied to terrorism, but as there is a little something called a “transition period” of six months the NSA can now resume its collection of metadata, which it had stopped on Sunday evening as the Patriot Act was expiring. Another important aspect of this bill is that the data collected is no longer government but private property, as it is retained by the phone companies, and is therefore no longer easily accessible under FOIA laws, which makes controlling these heinous acts of privacy invasion by investigative journalists even harder.
Furthermore, section 207 of the FISA act – which allows vaguely defined “agents of foreign power” (essentially all employees and officials from any foreign-government-backed entity) to be surveilled and have their homes searched – remains untouched, and all other forms of data collection are still in unhindered process.
The bill was passed unamended, and that means that the NSA is now back online and will continue collecting data by itself for six months before the phone companies start doing so instead. The main problem with the bill is not even this so-called “transition period” but much more that it reinstates many overboard surveillance measures made possible by the 2001 Patriot Act. While it is being praised all over as this “great reform”, it is actually quite the opposite; a sign that reform is possible at best and not the actual reform that is so desperately needed in the mess of American surveillance agencies. This bill is in essence just a great PR stunt with little consequences to those fucking degenerates sifting through the data of millions of innocent civilians worldwide.
Now of course it does indicate that the government is realizing that the people are fed up with being constantly monitored and having their privacy invaded, and also that the bulk metadata collection has had literally no effect on the country’s safety in regard to terrorism, but it still seems that those in power are not quite ready to give us the actual freedom we need and not the phony freedom they seem to think we deserve.
It boggles the mind, really, that after Snowden, Assange, Brown, etc. there is still no real, viable solution to the Kafkaesque threat to civil liberties that is constantly posed by the omnipresent surveillance by those fucking three-letter-agencies. And the most ironic fact in this whole debacle is that Obama has actually urged the American people to help pass this monstrosity by saying that the expiration of the Patriot Act would drastically lessen the country’s safeguards against terrorism and that the reform in form of the USA Freedom Act would actually be a monumental step towards protection of privacy and civil liberties.
Which is just bullshit. We’re still being monitored, we’re still being controlled, we have not gotten anywhere close to fully getting rid of the Orwellian surveillance state that the United States has morphed into in the past decades.
There is still too much room for invading the privacy of completely mundane and non-terrorism related people in this bill, and that cannot stand, especially not after the unveilings of the past few years. It is incomprehensible to me how this farce of a reform bill can be hailed as the greatest limitation of American intelligence agencies of the century. Sure, it is the first such reform this century, but this does not automatically make it a historic victory for civil liberties and privacy. It just makes it historic, which ultimately doesn’t mean shit. Symbolic changes are nice to look at and easy to implement, but in the end do not change anything in praxis. Data is still being collected, phones are being tapped, emails read, and locations tracked. Nothing has changed, except that the expiration of the meanest parts of the Patriot Act were deferred and that the NSA is now getting its metadata collection program back online for another six months. Great job.
The NSA scandal is far from over, and I really hope that more reform measures will follow this first, failed attempt at one, because resting on the laurels of this wanna-be change would be a disastrous sign of apathy and ignorance within the governing bodies. But that would not be the first time and wouldn’t surprise me in the least. I was generally not surprised by this news at all, seeing as it is not surprising anymore that bills that undermine the people’s rights are passed with a great round of applause for keeping the country safe and doing oh-so-much to protect the civil population from Big Data.
It’s not even worth getting angry about anymore, being cynical about it is the better way to go if you ask me; the surveillance state is here, our SmartTV is Orwell’s telescreen, and the NSA is just a clever acronym for Thought Police. There is no joy in me today, and I really hope that this USA Freedom Act will at least spark a wave of further reforms that will actually change something, otherwise we’ll keep being stuck in the same damn rut that has kept the world under close observation since 2001.
So, closing the frame, Obama has either not read the thing in its entirety or is too blinded by its name and vague content to realize what he actually signed in the name of “civil liberties and privacy of the American people”.