MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING
CONGRESS TWEAKS THE “USA PATRIOT ACT” WITH PASSAGE OF THE “USA FREEDOM ACT”
While you could be forgiven for being suspicious of the 1984-Brave New World pseudo-speak that the titles of these two Acts of Congress disgorge like sewage flowing from a 48” effluent pipe, let’s not be prejudiced about a law that is “critical to keeping Americans safe from terrorism and protecting their civil liberties” as Speaker of the House, John Boehner, proclaimed or countering Obama who “has been a reluctant commander in chief” in the worlds of Mitch McConnell, Senate Majority Leader. Except for Republican presidential candidate Rand Paul who has been a staunch critic of NSA’s bulk data collection program, neither Republicans nor Democrats appear to have gained many political chits from the Rand caused lapse of three of the Patriot Act’s provisions. Then too, Paul’s showdown with the Republican leadership apparently didn’t pay off – in campaign contributions – as much as he’d hoped.
But a news item back in 2004 – three years after the bi-partisan adoption of the USA Patriot Act - caught my attention. It was one of those page-three items, just a short four or five paragraph piece about a technician out in Sacramento, CA, who, while providing service to an AT&T switching facility, discovered that all the feeds from the facility were routed to a Secure Compartmentalized Information Facility or SCIF as they are known in the trade. Having participated in several meetings where Top Secret discussions took place in SCIF’s and having design a couple, right off I understood the implications of this technician’s discovery. AT&T was feeding my data – and yours – to the government, presumably the NSA. Remember this was pre-Edward Snowden. The story had the makings of a mind-blowing scandal. There was maybe two days of follow-ups to the New York Times revelation, a couple of media outlets covered the story and then – absolute silence.
Me? In my less than favorable views about domestic spying, I concluded that the Bush Administration had stepped in to kill the story. Then back in June of 2013 came the blockbuster Edward Snowden affair, blowing the lid off NSA’s world wide spying program. But it wasn’t until a few months ago, thanks to a Frontline report about America’s spy programs, that it was revealed why the 2004 story had disappeared from public view. President Bush told the New York Times editors that if they continued with the story, they would have “blood on their hands” presumably the blood being the blood of Americans at the hands of terrorists. The Times agreed to kill the story.
So this is the back chatter surrounding the delay, lapse of NSA’s authority to collect data and, finally, the passage yesterday of the USA Freedom Act.
But what does the new legislation actually accomplish? Key to the uproar over the Snowden revelations that caused Rand Paul to embark on his campaign against domestic spying and the genesis of the USA Freedom Act’s provisions, are two amendments to the USA Patriot Act. In addition to extending the USA Patriot Act, now the NSA cannot keep meta data on their own servers (or wherever this stuff is kept) but that responsibility rests with our private corporations. Like AT&T, Sprint, Verizon, Google and Facebook where the information originates anyway. There are some vague provisions that allegedly requires NSA to go to the FISA court more often now and there is a parallel civilian set up to monitor NSA’s activities.
In truth, the USA Freedom Act doesn’t really change much. If anything. NSA, despite the Snowden revelations and Rand Paul’s campaign, still has the authority to collect any and all information and data it deems necessary. But as disturbing as this is, what is more disturbing is Congress’ trust in our corporate overlords. And this trust is mirrored by the American public. While the explosion of righteous indignation, the national cries of betrayal, the “How could this happen?” expressions of the public’s displeasure, there has been no concomitant outrage that Amazon, Google, Verizon, AT&T, et al both collect and use our personal data without our permission and with absolutely no control, no oversight, and no regulation that I’m aware of. They are free to collect, store and use any and all information about us as they see fit. For profit.
The argument that I constantly run into on my online comments is that the private sector doesn’t have a military behind it that could potentially use the data it collects to clamp down on critics, eliminate political enemies, or turn the country into a dictatorship. True. The private sector doesn’t have standing armies. It also doesn’t have House and Senate Oversight Committees, or budgetary oversight by anyone, or Federal Court oversight, or a limiting bureaucracy subject to Federal rules and regulations. But what corporations do have is information, massive amounts of it, comprising a vast treasure trove of data and information that could potentially be used against us. Do you want a potential employer to know what politically-minded web sites and blogs you regularly visit? That as a teenager you were arrested for shoplifting at your local Sears store? Do you want your current employer to know which porn sites you patronize or that you have a preference for “blue-eyed, blond haired, big busted younger women or that you hate Croats? Jews? Arabs? Liberals? No I thought not. But as of today there is nothing to prevent such disclosures and it’s my best guess that there will be many more such legitimate and nefarious activities in the future. It’s one thing to research if a potential employee has a criminal record but something profoundly chilling about researching one’s political views.
It is clear that the USA Freedom Act is responding to the cry that “NSA’s mega data spy program invites the prospect of a government takeover and the establishment of a dictatorship” here in America. A radical right wing construct? Sure. A prospect that is so pressing that Federal Legislation should take this possibility into account? If you believe this then, as the right wingers love to declare, “You Have Swallowed The Kool-Aid.” It ain’t gonna happen.
But giving our private corporate overlords even more power over our lives doesn’t seem to phase Congress or the vast majority of the American public in the least. I, for one, cannot even begin to fathom why. Score a big one for Corporate America.
For a more balanced picture of how corporate America controls us than mine, take a look at this Bill Moyers documentary "Deep State."