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11 Mar, 2020 00:24

Elusive bipartisan cooperation spotted in House leaders’ daring last-minute rescue of controversial warrantless wiretapping powers

Elusive bipartisan cooperation spotted in House leaders’ daring last-minute rescue of controversial warrantless wiretapping powers

Democrat and Republican House leaders have paused their partisan sniping to do the real work of governing: keeping unpopular surveillance programs, including roving NSA wiretaps and access to metadata, alive indefinitely.

With just four days to go before congressional authorization for the controversial provisions expires, a bipartisan contingent has swooped in to save the NSA from experiencing one second of separation anxiety from Americans’ private communications. Committee heads from both sides of the aisle wrangled enough votes within their own parties to deliver a reauthorization bill on Tuesday night which they believe will pass the entire House on Wednesday.

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Lawmakers reportedly sweated for months over the legislation, which extends key elements of the USA Freedom Act, the 2015 replacement for the NSA’s ‘StellarWind’ program exposed by whistleblower Edward Snowden – even though the NSA itself no longer uses the program. Indeed, it was the Trump administration, not Congress, that pleaded for its reauthorization, on the off chance it might be needed again in the future.

Judiciary Committee chair Jerrold Nadler (D-New York) insisted to reporters on Tuesday that the bill represents a “significant overhaul” of the surveillance program, “end[ing] the call details records program that began as a secret and unlawful surveillance project almost 20 years ago.” However, his boast only succeeded in highlighting Congress’ abject failure to prosecute the “rogue” intelligence agencies that crafted the original, wildly unconstitutional program all those years ago. Meanwhile, far from reining in the data-hungry intel agencies, the bill extends all three soon-to-expire provisions – roving wiretaps, “lone wolf” surveillance, and access to metadata on request – without meaningful restrictions.

The relative lack of fanfare surrounding the vote is unsurprising, given House Democrats’ efforts to portray themselves as a meaningful #Resistance to a Trump administration they accuse of perpetrating rapacious attacks on the most vulnerable Americans. A similarly self-contradictory vote in November saw the Democrats vote unanimously to shoehorn a three-month reauthorization of the PATRIOT Act into a simple government-funding bill, ensuring the very same president they were seeking to impeach at the time would not be deprived of his sweeping surveillance powers.

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Indeed, both chambers of Congress have shown an utter unwillingness to meaningfully rein in the spies that have run roughshod over Americans’ civil liberties since the September 11 attacks opened the floodgates for any and all surveillance initiatives previously considered unconstitutional. While the original StellarWind program notably never stymied a terror attack, neither party has been willing to look weak on “national security,” and the programs have shambled along slurping up Americans’ private communications ever since.

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