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6.03.2015

Making Progress in a Post-9/11 Surveillance State

Politicians of all persuasions--including Ron Wyden, Mitch McConnell, and Rand Paul--compromised on the American Freedom Act, a bill that President Obama signed that is designed to limit the widespread, suspicionless surveillance of American citizens. The legislation leaves in place some NSA provisions for spying (lets hope that the abuse of stipulative labeling is minimal here) on suspected "lone-wolf" terrorists and those that frequently dispose of cheap cellular phones.

But all in all, the legislation draws some pretty clear lines between what the government can collect and warehouse in terms of the telephone conversations of average American citizens. It would now take a court order to access the private telephone conversations that are no longer be curated by the NSA. Instead, these conversations are held by private vendors, creating another barrier that acts as a protection of privacy.

While the Electronic Frontier Foundation applauded the legislation, they do lament that it could have gone further to protect the civil liberties of American citizens. ACLU deputy legal director Jameel Jaffer called this a milestone victory, and noted that this legislation does, in some ways, exonerate Edward Snowden as a whistleblower and patriot.

I've been waiting for this for years, and I think that it signals a significant healing in the wake of the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and an important restoration of privacy protections to the U.S. people. I don't think that we can allow President Obama to take the credit on this one. It took democrats, republicans, and libertarians alike--along with the sustained and meticulous pressure of groups like the ACLU and EFF--to make this happen. And in what is surely one of the largest personal sacrifices in matters of recent public controversy, we can't overlook the actions of Edward Snowden in exposing these data-collection practices. I hope the American Freedom Act signals the beginning of the creation of a pathway home for him.


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