In the panicked aftermath of the September 11th attacks, Congress hurriedly passed a number of anti-terrorism bills with little debate. We were told that these laws were necessary to fight terrorism and keep us safe. But as time has passed and knowledge of the NSA surveillance programs has been made public, more Americans are questioning whether these laws do more harm than good.
The Patriot Act is the most famous of these unconstitutional laws that takes away our liberty under the guise of national security. To say Ben Franklin is rolling in his grave is putting it mildly. Passed just six weeks after the September 11th attacks, it greatly increased the government’s power to spy on U.S. citizens without a warrant. Believe or not, the final bill passed less than 48 hours of being introduced. Does anyone think Congress had time to fully read and properly evaluate the 363-page bill?
The 4th Amendment is pretty clear: government cannot perform unreasonable searches and seizures. This means that the government must obtain a warrant from a judge in order to search private property. The Patriot Act throws this constitutional protection out the window. And this blatant violation of our 4th amendment was passed overwhelmingly.
Under the Patriot Act, the government can conduct warrantless private property without even your notice. A section of the law grants the government the authority to force any company to release private records about their customers. Google could be sharing your Internet browsing history with the FBI. You have no way of knowing and Google is legally prohibited from informing customers!
Your doctor records aren’t even off-limits. Even if an American citizen has done nothing wrong, there is no justification for the government to treat us like criminals. Freedom and privacy go hand in hand.
Patriot Act supporter Rep. Mike Rogers of Michigan recently said that, "you can't have your privacy violated if you don't know your privacy is violated.” That’s a ridiculous notion that doesn’t make any sense.
According to dictionary.com, the definition of privacy is, “the state of being free from intrusion or disturbance in one's private life or affairs.”
Let’s say that someone snuck into your house and set up hidden video cameras without your knowledge. That person has the ability to watch every single thing you do in your home. You may not realize that your privacy is being violated but you are certainly not free from intrusion in your private life. Therefore, your privacy can be violated even if you aren’t aware of the intrusion.
Thankfully, original authors of the Patriot Act are acknowledging that the NSA’s metadata collection program has gone way too far. One of those authors is Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner. He admits that the law was not supposed to allow Congress “to permit the NSA’s collection of the records of every telephone call made to, from and within the United States.”
Rep. Sensenbrenner has introduced the USA Freedom Act to curb the excessive powers of the NSA. This much-needed bill would increase government transparency and protect the privacy of innocent Americans. It’s one of those few bills that have united conservatives and liberals. The cosponsors of the bill range from libertarian Reps. Justin Amash and Thomas Massie to progressive Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton.
The USA Freedom Act would tighten section 215 of the Patriot Act to limit the bulk collection of records on Americans. It would require the NSA to convince Foreign Intelligence Surveillance court courts that a target is “an agent of a foreign power,” was “subject of an investigation” or thought to be “in contact with an agent of a foreign power.” This check on the NSA’s power will help ensure that the agency does not overstep its authority.
The USA Freedom Act would also increase government transparency by requiring that secret significant FISA court opinions be made public. The bill would help limit the number of records shared with third parties. Companies would be allowed to report how many requests they get from government to share information and government will be required to publish how many people are subject to surveillance orders.
While the Patriot Act should be repealed, this bill is a good step in the right direction to limit the government’s unjustified surveillance powers. The American people are waiting on Congress to do something about the NSA’s invasion of our privacy. The USA Freedom Act is a great start.
Julie Borowski is a Policy Analyst at FreedomWorks, an organization dedicated to lower taxes, less government, and more freedom. Her writings on economic policy have appeared in numerous newspapers and online outlets. She is on the Board of Advisors for the Coalition to Reduce Spending and she launched an independent YouTube channel called TokenLibertarianGirl in June 2011.
She was previously selected to be a Charles G. Koch Summer Fellow with the Institute for Humane Studies where she worked at the Center for Competitive Politics. Most recently, she was a government affairs associate at Americans for Tax Reform.
Julie has volunteered for political candidates in Kentucky and in her home state of Maryland. She graduated Magna Cum Laude from Frostburg State University in May 2010 where she studied political science, economics and international studies. She is now located in Washington, D.C.