Defying all logic, both Senators Thune and Rounds voted to renew the Patriot Act as is without changes. The Patriot Act was set to sunset on June 1st, 2015. Though the Patriot Act had been renewed in the past, this time was different. In May 2013, Edward Snowden leaked thousands of classified documents to several journalists which shed light on how the Patriot Act was being actually being used. One of the most startling revelations was that the National Security Agency (NSA) had been collecting the phone records of virtually every American on a daily basis. This gave rise to a number of developments:
- The author of the Patriot, Act Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, stated that the Patriot Act was never intended to allow dragnet surveillance of all phone records, and that the government has twisted and reinterpreted the meaning of the law.
- Washington D.C District Court Judge Richard J. Leon referred to the NSA’s “almost-Orwellian technology” and ruled the bulk telephony metadata program to be probably unconstitutional.
- The Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the NSA bulk data collection program is illegal because it is unauthorized under Section 215 of USA Patriot Act.
- At the direction of the President, the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB) reviewed the Patriot Act programs, and they concluded that the government should end the bulk collection of Americans’ phone records and other data. They reported that the government “lacks a viable legal foundation” for the mass data collection, and that they found little evidence that the program was actually effective.
- The White House endorsed, and the NSA lobbied for an alternative to the Patriot Act called the USA Freedom Act.
- The House of Representatives had already overwhelmingly passed the USA Freedom Act and had no plans to take up a renewal of the Patriot Act.
I can’t think of any logical reason why Senators Thune and Rounds would vote to renew a bill that had been carried out contrary to the will of Congress, had been ruled unlawful and possibly unconstitutional by the courts, had been deemed illegal and ineffective by a government panel of experts, had no support from the White House or the intelligence agencies, and had no chance of being taken up by the House of Representatives.
I’m left to believe that Senators Thune and Rounds joined by a minority of Senators tried to renew an un-amended version of the Patriot Act for the sole purpose of preventing Edward Snowden’s actions from being vindicated by an act of Congress. Senator Mcconnell said as much in his floor speech.
I’m ashamed that South Dakota’s senators would stoop to such playground politics at the expense of their constituents back home. To his credit, Senator Rounds eventually voted for the USA Freedom Act after it was clear that an un-ammended Patriot Act would not succeed.