‘Modest changes to US Patriot Act left major problems unresolved’

Sen.Rand Paul (Reuters / Mike Theiler)
For the first time, the Patriot Act has lost some power, said lawyer and advocate Kevin Zeese. However, the changes fail to address the problem of institutionalizing the practice of snooping, with corporations and the US government in cahoots, he added.

The Patriot Act expired yesterday as the US Senate failed to reach an agreement on it. The controversial Act determined the landscape of America's domestic surveillance practices. Section 215 allowed the NSA and FBI to get access to American citizens’ phone-record metadata and store it for a period of five years.

RT:What is the fate of the Patriot act now that lawmakers have failed to reach a deal? Does it mean an end to unchecked surveillance?

READ MORE: Goodbye Section 215: Patriot Act key surveillance provisions expire

Kevin Zeese: [Yesterday] the Senate basically decided to go forward with the USA Freedom Act, which will make some modest changes to the Patriot Act. The main change will be that the metadata will no longer be stored by the federal government or the NSA, rather it will be stored by the telephone companies, and then if the NSA wants to get access, they have to apply, and get a warrant from a judge to do so. So that is an improvement on a portion of the Patriot Act.

We still have a major problem in the US of massive NSA snooping, and that’s really left unresolved. I supported Rand Paul’s effort, the Republican from Kentucky, to try to stop the Patriot Act from being renewed, and real rethinking of how we deal with this kind of intelligence gathering in the US and around the world; it is not just snooping in the US, but around the world as well. Unfortunately, I think the Senate is going to go forward with a modest change, a slight improvement.

I guess you can look at that in two ways: it is a slight improvement, it is the first time the Patriot Act has lost any power, but it does also institutionalize the practice of this kind of snooping and provides now a new way of handling it and it combines corporate and government working together, which is always dangerous in the US.

RT:Senator Rand Paul said during the debate on the matter: “This is a debate over the Bill of Rights, this is a debate over the Fourth Amendment, this is a debate over your right to be left alone.” He added that “the president continues to conduct an illegal program,” and Americans “can’t allow this...” So does the outcome mean this point of view proved to be the winning one?

READ MORE: 'Stop illegal NSA spying': Rand Paul vows to let USA Patriot Act expire

KZ: ... He should have prevailed, but he did not. What you see happening in this kind of situation is the fear card being played. You have President Obama, you have the leadership in Congress on both sides of the aisle, you have people from the Security State all telling Americans that lives will be lost if we lose the ability to spy on you. So it is the classic ‘your safety vs. your privacy.’ Unfortunately, this is not going to make us any safer, but it will certainly undermine our privacy further. We’re not dealing with the real issues of how the NSA, with the leadership of President Obama and other executive branch officials, went ahead and began this massive spying program without telling anybody. Thanks goodness for Edward Snowden who’s an American hero, who came forward and leaked incredibly important documents that showed the extent of this surveillance and now there is at least debate. And I credit Rand Paul for keeping that debate going in the Congress. I don’t think that is the end of it. I think we need more people, organized and mobilized, to really make some serious changes in the way we relate to the intelligence agencies spying on the American people and people of the World.

RT:Intelligence agents are saying that such an outcome is a win for extremist groups. What do you think about that?

KZ: It would be a win for freedom and privacy, a win for what people think of as the American way, which is supposedly a government that is a democracy and respects people’s privacy. Those are more our ideals rather than our realities. I think the fringe has won today, the fringe that puts forward the Patriot Act and the USA Freedom Act that undermines our privacy that allows the government to snoop into our lives. That’s the fringe, that is the element that should be looked at as the extremists who are undermining what the rule of law should be, which is to protect our rights, protect our individuality, protect our privacy. Unfortunately, that is not a direction that mainstream America is now going in. The leadership of the country unfortunately has the fringe view, the view of massive government surveillance that needs to be stopped.

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