The Patriot Act Is Changing. Here’s What This Means for Your Privacy.

Some key sections of the notorious Patriot Act, the law empowering the NSA with surveillance powers, expired automatically this week. But don’t worry too much for now: they will probably come back with some changes. Here’s what we know and what it means for your privacy.

What happened to the Patriot Act?

You may have heard on the news that the Patriot Law Expires. Technically, this is not the case. The Patriot Act in general remains in effect. There are many details that are not controversial (or at least not so controversial), and they will remain in place. However, some of the regulations giving the NSA the right to spy on both Americans and foreigners have expired. It finally happened at midnight Monday. They will probably return, but one at a time. This is what these provisions entail:

  • Section 215: Massive Metadata Collection. This section allegedly allows the NSA to collect metadata for every phone call made to and from the US, even if the US citizens involved are not involved in the investigation. It is worth noting that the US Court of Appeals has already ruled that this program is outside the scope of what the Patriot Act allows , but has not yet ordered the program to close because Congress was already discussing the program at the time.
  • Unidentified Mobile Wiretaps: A lesser known program, Section 206 allows the NSA to obtain clearance from secret FISA vessels – vessels that are not accessible to the public who issue surveillance warrants – by allowing them to wiretap any method of communication that a suspect may use to communicate. If the target drops the torch phone, the NSA can connect to a different line without requiring a new warrant. To make matters worse, the NSA did not need to identify the target’s name.
  • Lone Wolf Warrants: This specific provision allows the NSA to receive warrants from FISA courts to electronically monitor a suspect without revealing that the person is associated with any known terrorist group or foreign power. It is worth mentioning that this particular clause has reportedly never been used , which indicates that it is reasonable to give it an expiration date for practical as well as privacy reasons.

All of these provisions (as well as many others) have expired several times over the past decade , but Congress and the President (s) have ultimately decided to renew these programs several times ever since. While some in Congress have tried to prevent re-authorization or amend the law, all of these attempts have failed. This time, Congress for the first time allowed the expiration of the above provisions, which means that the opposition is going somewhere. They will most likely return, but with some key limitations.

These restrictions came in the form of the US FREEDOM Act , a bill with an acronym so silly that it sounds like it was written by Marvel . In its current form, the bill introduces some important changes to the Patriot Act, but most privacy groups such as the EFF and ACLU do not feel that this is enough. Here are some of the key changes:

  • The government cannot collect massive phone records, but corporations can: instead of allowing the government to collect huge volumes of phone records, the US FREEDOM Act would shift the process to the companies that manage the data. The government can then request information, provided they choose a specific “selector”, such as a person’s name. This means that the government itself would not have the data, but corporations like Verizon and AT&T would still need to have a database that the government could access when needed. Which, depending on how easily the government can access this data, can make no difference.
  • The public will have an attorney at FISA court hearings: The only thing stopping the NSA from accessing your data (for example, those good phone companies that will now have to store) are the FISA courts. In the past, FISA trials were usually held behind closed doors, with no objection, no appeal, and little or no oversight. Under the US FREEDOM Act, whenever the NSA needs to request permission from these courts to do something, there will be a public defender to speak out in favor of protecting your data. Of course, this still leaves some problems, such as who appoints this protector, but it is also better than what exists now.
  • New accountability tools will help Americans know what’s going on: In addition to having a public defender at FISA court hearings, the new law will require the government to publish the results of important decisions. This means that the public will learn how some of these tools are used and what the rationale is. In addition, the law requires the government to publish statistics on the use of surveillance programs. However, there is still the possibility that the results of the FISA court hearings will not be released for “national security reasons,” which is the same problem we have now.

Depending on where you are on the privacy and security spectrum, these changes can seem good or bad. They will still allow the government to access your phone’s metadata records, but will change the way it is implemented. Legal expert Amy Stepanovich explained to Vox that even such a limited approach could lead to the fact that the government will receive data on millions of untargeted. The bill also provides for the return of unchanged provisions on mobile handsets and lone wolves. We’ll also probably see a little more accountability, but not as much as privacy advocates like the EFF or ACLU would like.

The US FREEDOM Act is currently under discussion in the Senate, where, if approved, it goes to the president’s table for the law to be signed. However, until the Senate votes on the bill, changes could be made. This means you can also call your senators and voice your concerns and support (or lack thereof).

What could have happened now

The House of Representatives has now approved this version of the US FREEDOM Act, which means it is just awaiting Senate approval. On May 23, the Senate voted against the bill at the urging of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell . Up to this point, McConnell had wanted to completely update the existing Patriot Act provisions without change. Without his support, neither the extension of the Patriot Act nor the US FREEDOM Act would have passed.

However, on Sunday, May 31, during a Senate Special Session, McConnell chose to support the US FREEDOM Act rather than allow the Patriot Act to expire entirely. With this new support, the Senate was able to vote to move on it, which means it will either be passed or at least the Senate will debate any improvements they want to make before being passed.

However, due to procedural rules, the Senate was unable to vote to pass it on Sunday. This delay resulted in a violation of the provisions mentioned above – in other words, the Senate did not want them to expire. They just waited too long to save them. However, it is likely that the Senate will vote to pass the US FREEDOM Act in one form or another. This vote could happen today if the Senate wants to hurry. It can also include any number of changes, depending on the course of the negotiations. We won’t know for sure how things will change until the law is passed, but at this point it seems unlikely that all expired provisions will remain out of date.

Update: As expected, the Senate passed the US FREEDOM Act by 67 to 32. The Senate was unable to agree to any amendments, so the law will go unchanged to the President for signature. This means the return of Section 215 (to the telecom operators, not directly to the NSA) and changes to the FISA judicial system.

What doesn’t change at all

Regardless of what happens to the US FREEDOM Act, the provisions under discussion are not a complete package. The NSA still has a number of bodies to monitor or collect data. Which is not necessarily a bad thing! The NSA’s job is to track potential threats to the United States. The difference between internal and external surveillance is complex, but suffice it to say that unwarranted surveillance of US citizens and unnecessary surveillance of foreign countries probably won’t make anyone sleep well at night.

That being said, there are still some problematic points that are not even part of this discussion. Chief among these is Section 702. This section became known when we first learned about NSA programs such as PRISM, which collect messages on the Internet. 702 allows the collection of Internet communications for at least one destination outside the United States . This means that, for example, if a US citizen sends a message to someone overseas, that data can be collected and stored in NSA databases.

To make matters worse, Section 702 does not require these destinations to be personal or even intentional. For example, Google tends to transfer data between its data centers in complex ways. Occasionally, your data may move outside the United States, even if the sender and recipient of these messages are located in the United States. In such cases, the NSA may have the authority to require technology companies to transfer this data .

A number of programs, such as PRISM, MYSTIC, and NSA Bottom Line Data Collection , are authorized (or at least the NSA claims to be authorized) by Section 702. This means that these programs are still in effect until or until Congress does so. -then. to end them. Given that the US FREEDOM Act – which has little or no effect on Section 702 – is the only bill currently enjoying significant congressional support, it is unlikely that another NSA-related bill will appear anytime soon.

What can you do

The Senate is likely to vote on this debate very soon, so if you want to call your senators and convince them one way or another, now is the time. The passage of the US FREEDOM Act would mean that some unpopular forces would return to the NSA, along with some much-needed accountability rules.

Failure to pass it, on the other hand, would mean that Congress will have to start from scratch if it wants to reform the NSA or reclaim its expired mandate. With the presidential and congressional elections approaching, giving the NSA any new powers would be a politically risky strategy. Of course, this can also make it difficult to implement any necessary reforms.

Unfortunately, there is no definite answer, one way or another, now. However, over the past decade or so, Congress has unanimously agreed to renew all provisions of the Patriot Act without any amendment or change at all. The fact that these provisions do not apply at all means that you have a great opportunity to make your voice heard.


Leave a Reply