In America, one the world’s proudest democracies, nobody is above the law—well, except police officers, rich white kids who insist they don’t know any better and all branches of government.
The NSA’s extremely intrusive phone surveillance program is a reminder of this.
As national talks have emerged about just how quickly Congress would have to act if they truly wanted to renew the program before its June 1 expiration date, it seems many have forgotten one key fact. The blanket of surveillance on American citizens who have no connection to terrorism is illegal. It always has been. Congress has been well aware of this but they have continued to push forward in defense of the program that was never even legalized.
“Earlier this month, a federal appeals court ruled that while the surveillance agency has long claimed to be acting in accordance with Section 215 of the Patriot Act, the text of that law in fact authorizes no such program,” writes The Atlantic’s Conor Friedersdorf. “The Obama Administration has been executing a policy that the legislature never passed into being.”
So while the NSA’s phone surveillance program will likely expire in a few days, it still draws quite a bit of attention to the fact that Congress has been spending a significant amount of time debating the renewal of something that, legally speaking, was never actually enacted in the first place.
Of course, this is the expected outcome of a system where those who make the laws are essentially being allowed to interpret them however they want with little to no surveillance. The irony here is a bit overwhelming.
But the bizarre case of the NSA and its illegal phone surveillance program doesn’t stop there. The House of Representatives did vote on the program days ago, reaching an overwhelming vote to “end the National Security Agency’s mass collection of phone records from millions of Americans with no ties to terrorism.”
They did so with the passing of the USA Freedom Act, which would essentially renew “key sections” of the Patriot Act while still doing away with overly intrusive phone surveillance. The act does not, however, prohibit the widespread collection of data by phone companies nor prohibit the government from accessing that data whenever they please.
But when the new proposal reached the Senate, it was halted in its tracks and it was up to the Senate to toss together a new measure aimed at keeping the surveillance program alive when June 1 rolls around.
But even after receiving a majority vote in favor of the measure, it too failed to make it past the Senate floor.
“The measure failed in the Senate 57 to 42, with 12 Republicans voting for it, shortly after midnight because Mr. [Rand] Paul, a candidate for the White House, dragged the procedure out as he promised to do in fund-raising tweets and emails,” The New York Times reported.
So the conclusion of this twisted Congressional tale is one that most people would consider a positive one. Due to the lack of meaningful movement in Congress, the phone surveillance program will likely expire on June 1 along with a host of other provisions under the Patriot Act since the House is now in recess.
But then again, the legalities of things don’t seem to hold much weight on Capitol Hill to being with.