FOR ARGUABLY THE first time since Edward Snowden released government documents to the media detailing the NSA’s secret bulk collection surveillance programs, privacy advocates are bullish about the prospects of changing the way the government collects data for anti-terrorism and law enforcement purposes. This week, the Hill reported that the Senate Passed the USA Freedom Act, which is designed to rein in what was seen as indiscriminate bulk collection of U.S. phone records and internet browsing data.
Indeed, things are looking brighter for privacy advocates when Republicans—who generally condemned the Snowden disclosures as illegal, if not outright treasonous—are infighting over the issue. POLITICO reported this week that Rand Paul (R-Ky.) blasted Jeb Bush over his defense of the NSA’s data collection practices. In fact, Paul was instrumental in delaying the renewal of the Patriot Act and, in doing so, caused the NSA’s bulk collection to lapse, as the Daily Beast notes.
Still, privacy advocates say that it isn’t enough. For one, the NSA still has the power to collect American e-mails and other communications without a warrant if they are associated with foreigners being surveilled under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, Prism, Upstream, and others. Business Insider reported that advocates such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Mozilla (creators of the Firefox web browser) aggressively lobbied for the passage of the USA Freedom Act, but Chris Riley of Mozilla stressed that the bill “[isn’t] comprehensive” and that there is still significant work to be done to ensure free and open communication among U.S. citizens.
While passage of the USA Freedom Act is a significant step forward for a movement that badly needed one, it remains to be seen if the measures in the act will be enough to curb what privacy advocates see as illegal and out of control government surveillance. With loopholes like the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the future is far from certain.