Internet Activists Celebrate Historic Departure from Patriot Act Status Quo
After 40+ "Sunset” vigils across the country, millions of emails, hundreds of thousands of phone calls to Congress, and tens of thousands of websites protesting, Congress rejected two attempts to reauthorize the PATRIOT Act early Saturday morning
WASHINGTON––The United States Senate has rejected two surveillance bills that would have reauthorized expiring sections of the Patriot Act – either carte blanche for two months or in an updated form until 2019. Congress has been faced with how to address the bulk collection of data after these programs were revealed by Edward Snowden, and since studies of these programs have shown they have had a negligible effect on thwarting terrorism cases.
Fight for the Future, the prominent digital rights group best known for their role in the massive SOPA and net neutrality protests, and the Reset the Net campaign, which was endorsed by Edward Snowden, celebrated the victory. The group helped organize dozens of "Sunset Vigils" across the U.S. on Thursday (see photos here).
Fight for the Future and many other privacy groups had criticized the USA Freedom Act, a bill that would have reauthorized some of the worst sections of the PATRIOT Act without meaningfully curtailing government spying. The group’s representatives issued the following statements about today’s historic victory:
“Sunsetting the Patriot Act is the biggest win for ending mass surveillance programs, and one that conventional DC wisdom said was impossible. We are seeing history in the making and it was because the public stood up for our rights to freedom of expression and freedom of association – and there’s no turning back now,” said Tiffiniy Cheng, co-founder of Fight for the Future.
According to a White House memo to Congress, the Senate’s failure to renew provisions of the PATRIOT Act means that the NSA must begin shutting down its domestic mass surveillance programs this week, possibly only temporarily.
"These bills were an attempt to disregard the abuses revealed by Snowden and cement mass surveillance into law in defiance of the Constitution, the courts, and public sentiment," said Jeff Lyon, CTO of Fight for the Future. "The failure of these bills to pass shows just how dramatically the politics of surveillance changed once the extent of the government’s surveillance programs became known to the public."
"It was like Congress had some sick fetish for George Orwell jokes, or couldn’t wait for the next Hunger Games to come out," said Fight for the Future co-founder, Holmes Wilson, "They were about to reauthorize spying on the emails and calls of every American with a bill called ‘USA Freedom!’"
“Congress got a pass before, because we didn’t know for sure that the US government was illegally interpreting our laws to conduct mass surveillance programs. But, now that these programs have seen the light of day, they’re responsible for enacting mass surveillance into law or discontinuing it,” added Cheng. “Some members of Congress are now on record for voting against the Constitution, 240 years of legislative intent, and the public will of the last hundred years, and for mass surveillance programs.”