Well, it’s not the complete repeal I’d prefer, but it’s an improvement:
In a significant scaling back of national security policy formed after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the Senate on Tuesday approved legislation curtailing the federal government’s sweeping surveillance of American phone records, and President Obama signed the measure hours later.
The legislation signaled a cultural turning point for the nation, almost 14 years after the Sept. 11 attacks heralded the construction of a powerful national security apparatus. The shift against the security state began with the revelation by Edward J. Snowden, a former National Security Agency contractor, about the bulk collection of phone records. The backlash was aided by the growth of interconnected communication networks run by companies that have felt manhandled by government prying.
The storage of those records now shifts to the phone companies, and the government must petition a special federal court for permission to search them.
The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, for the first time, will be required to declassify some of its most significant decisions, and outside voices will be allowed to argue for privacy rights before the court in certain cases.
So a little more transparency, a small speedbump between the government and our meta-data. By itself, it’s a very tiny win against the gigantic surveillance state President Obama controls.
But the bigger win could be the political victory. The pro-police-state forces threw out their usual apocalyptic rhetoric while they tried to force the Senate to reauthorize the Patriot Act without even a debate. And, for the first time, it didn’t work. Rand Paul, many Democrats and enough Republicans weathered the storm and got some small changes. For the first time, someone in Congress had enough of a spine to call bullshit on their bullshit. And that could pay off down the road:
Senator Mike Lee, a Utah Republican, and Senator Leahy made it clear after passage that curtailing the phone sweeps might be only the beginning. The two are collaborating on legislation to undo a provision in the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 that allows the government to read the contents of email over six months old. House members and senators from both parties are already eyeing a section of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act that they say has also been abused by the government.
Let’s hope they keep pushing. The surveillance state has legions of supporters. The pushback has begun. It won’t end until we have our basic civil liberties back. And that might take decades.