The Freedom Act Farce?

Yesterday, the House of Representatives passed something called the “Freedom Act”.  According to Justin Amash (MI-3), one of the co-sponsors of this bill, the original purpose of this piece of legislation was to curtail the abuses to privacy by the federal government.  As he puts it, “At its best, the Freedom Act would have reined in the government’s unconstitutional domestic spying programs, ended the indiscriminate collection of Americans’ private records, and made the secret FISA court function more like a real court—with real arguments and real adversaries.”

However, between the time the legislation was written and the time that it made it to be voted upon, the power and intent of the bill changed dramatically.  Amash goes on to add, “This morning’s bill maintains and codifies a large-scale, unconstitutional domestic spying program. It claims to end ‘bulk collection’ of Americans’ data only in a very technical sense: The bill prohibits the government from, for example, ordering a telephone company to turn over all its call records every day.

“But the bill was so weakened in behind-the-scenes negotiations over the last week that the government still can order—without probable cause—a telephone company to turn over all call records for ‘area code 616’ or for ‘phone calls made east of the Mississippi.’ The bill green-lights the government’s massive data collection activities that sweep up Americans’ records in violation of the Fourth Amendment.”

Even though the bill passed 303-121, with both Majority Leader Eric Cantor and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi voting for it, as the bill was so markedly changed, most of the bill’s 152 original co-sponsors voted no including: Republicans Justin Amash, Scott Garrett, Timothy Huelskamp, and Mark Sanford, and Democrats Earl Blumenauer, Mike Honda, James McGovern, and Peter Welch.

In addition, troubling provisions of the Patriot Act which were set to end in 2015 have now been extended to 2017.

Much like the Patriot Act, the Freedom Act has an appealing title, but seems to do little to promote and protect freedom.  Of Virginia’s eleven members of the House of Representatives, only one, Morgan Griffith, voted no on this bill.

As Justin Amash concludes on his Facebook post, “It’s shameful that the president of the United States, the chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, and the leaders of the country’s surveillance agencies refuse to accept consensus reforms that will keep our country safe while upholding the Constitution. And it mocks our system of government that they worked to gut key provisions of the Freedom Act behind closed doors.

“The American people demand that the Constitution be respected, that our rights and liberties be secured, and that the government stay out of our private lives. Fortunately, there is a growing group of representatives on both sides of the aisle who get it. In the 10 months since I proposed the Amash Amendment to end mass surveillance, we’ve made big gains.

“We will succeed.”

Let’s hope he is right.

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