• Triston Mendez

USA Freedom Act Re-Authorized: Nobody Is Safe

Written by Triston Mendez of Our Revolution Los Angeles

On May 14th, the Senate passed H.R. 6172, the USA FREEDOM Reauthorization Act of 2020, with amendments, with a Yea-Nay vote, 80 – 16. If readers would like to find out how their Senator voted, the image below is of a list of all 100 U.S. Senators. It is very upsetting that the biggest Progressive champion at the Federal level of government, Bernie Sanders, was not present during the vote, however, according to Vox, both Bernie Sanders and Ben Sasse did not respond to Vox’s request for an explanation on their absence; Patty Murray had planned to vote yes, but was absent, according to Politico; Lamar Alexander was quarantined and could not vote. It is unclear as to how Lamar Alexander would have voted, and it is unfair to assume, just because he is a Republican, he would have voted yes, since a bulk of Democrats voted yes, and also due to the fact the amendment to prevent these warrantless searches on American’s web-search history was a bipartisan, joint-proposal.

Regarding this joint-proposal, which was pushed by Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR) & Steve Daines (R-MT), its’ statement of purpose was “to remove internet website browsing information and search history from scope of authority to access certain business records for foreign intelligence and international terrorism investigations.” The joint-proposal needed a simple majority of 60 votes to pass; here is the voting record: Yea’s-59 / Nay’s-37 / Not-Voting-4. As much as I hate to point fingers, I do have to mention that, if Bernie Sanders were present, he could have, and I believe would have, voted yes. There is a notorious saying people use to excuse themselves from voting, which is “one vote never made a difference,” well let me tell everybody something, in this case, 1 vote could have 100% made a difference, in fact, all enemies of the current Corporate Regime running America could have been safe from this absurd bill, if Bernie Sanders would have just showed up and voted with integrity.

Despite this, we cannot blame Senator Sanders alone, because the Democratic Party is allegedly a “left-leaning” party, yet they voted overwhelmingly in favor of SELLING OUT Americans. Looking at the Democratic Party platform, you can see “ensuring the protection of all American’s enumerated and unenumerated rights” is absent. In fact, when you go to the section titled “protect our values,” you can clearly see they do not care about protecting American’s unenumerated right to Privacy (list of topics under this section include: women and girls, LGBT People, Trafficking and Modern Slavery, young people, religious minorities, refugees, civil society, anti-corruption, torture, closing Guantanamo Bay, development assistance, global health, HIV and AIDS, and international labor). Those belonging to the Democratic party never seem to abide by a large majority of the items on the Democratic Party platform. They have shown, time-and-time again, that they refuse to enact Universal Health Care, especially in their massively coordinated effort to screw Bernie Sanders out of the Democratic nomination, who has consistently pushed “Medicare 4 All” as his number 1 campaign promise; the first issue under their “Health” section, is the belief that health care is a human right, not a privilege, which is the most blatant lie imaginable. The reason I brought this up, because the Democrats would have voted on this bill, even if the platform explicitly stated the Democrats do not support government infringement on unenumerated constitutional rights.

Back to the bill, the Congressional Chamber which introduced it, was the House of Representatives. According to The Verge, this bill has “restored government powers that expired in March with Section 215 of the Patriot Act;” an amendment was adopted by the Senate, expanding government oversight. The more important part of this bill, is that it allows law enforcement agencies to collect private information, so long as that information collected is classified as “tangible things,” so long as it is information relating to issues of national security. The worst part about this piece of information, is that law enforcement officials do not require an official warrant from a judge, they only require approval from a secret court, which is apparently infamous for rubber-stamping (which means: approve automatically without proper consideration) these information requests.

Unfortunately, I could not obtain video footage of the speeches made by Representatives Daines and Wyden, because the link for the webcasts for both sessions on May 14th, the time of passage, were broken. Fortunately, Vox did have some content they quoted in this article here; Daines spoke about how his bipartisan amendment of the USA FREEDOM Reauthorization Act “… would help prevent a politically motivated FBI from abusing FISA courts to secretly investigate President Trump’s campaign and advisors. Wyden spoke about how “… it would prevent abuse of FISA courts to secretly investigate Trump’s perceived enemies by Attorney General Bill Barr’s politically motivated Department of Justice.” Additionally, Wyden spoke about how the Covid-19 Pandemic has caused more people to spend more time on the internet than they did before the National Quarantine was declared. In the end, both Representatives did mention in their speeches that the amendment would further protect American’s privacy. He also added “is it right, when millions of law-abiding Americans are at home, for their government to be able to spy on their internet searches and their web browsing without a warrant?”

[UPDATE] I managed to find the video footage of the entire speech given by Senator Wyden.

I know it sounds bad that Daines spoke about protecting President Trump, but he is a Republican, so it is only natural that he would fall in line while keeping a tiny bit of his integrity. Although I dislike a large majority of Republicans and Democrats, I do have to acknowledge, according to Senator Daines official website, he “… has long worked to protect American’s civil liberties and Fourth Amendment rights,” and that he was “… an original co-sponsor of the USA Freedom Act of 2015, bipartisan legislation that ends the bulk collection of Americans’ phone records.” I just want to say I appreciate these Representatives’ attempt to defend Americans’ privacy, Daines did vote for the USA FREEDOM Reauthorization Act, after his amendment failed to pass.

I hate to disappoint people with more bad news, but according to TruthOut, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was the person who proposed the amendment to “… greatly expand the U.S. attorney general’s surveillance powers under FISA.” In case nobody has never picked up on this, an absurdly large amount of Republicans and “Karen’s” use the words “Socialism” and “Communism” interchangeably, as if they are the same thing. Mitch McConnell has constantly boasted about how he is the “Grim Reaper” of the Democratic Socialist Agenda, so if Socialism and Communism are interchangeable, according to Republican logic, then does that mean government’s forceful invasion of innocent people’s privacy not count as either Socialism or Communism? I’m no expert, but I am pretty sure any Authoritarian regime in history has done the exact same thing, just more obvious and blatant than the American Corporate regime.

There were two other Senators, civil libertarians Mike Lee (R-UT) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT), who proposed an amendment which would, according to The Daily Beast, would put “… oversight and review of those FBI surveillance applications in the hands of the comparatively neutral FISA Courrt and its amicus, an attorney who challenges the government’s surveillance submissions. They, rather than the attorney general, would get to review exculpatory evidence on a proposed surveillance target.” This amendment would specifically seek to affect evidence in matters involving: domestic religious or political organization, domestic public official or political candidate, their staff, or news media. Since the amendment did not pass, McConnell requires authorization of an amicus when law enforcement collects information targeting “… a campaign for Federal office or an application that targets a United States person when the application relies for its criminal predicate on only the provisions of the Foreign Agents Registration Act.”

In response to the floor discussion on the USA FREEDOM Reauthorization Act of 2020, a public letter was sent to public lawmakers urging them “… to support privacy-protective amendments.” The letter was written and signed by many important civil rights groups, including Human Rights Watch, the American Civil Liberties Union, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and many more. The letter also details how a bipartisan group of Senators agreed to consider 6 amendments (3 from each party). The letter also explains one of the many ways the unconstitutional powers, granted to law enforcement officials by the PATRIOT Act, can be abused:

Last year, a Department of Justice Inspector General report revealed a litany of omissions and errors in a FISA application targeting Trump campaign advisor Carter Page. A subsequent audit from the Inspector General released in March demonstrated that the Page incident was not a one-off, but rather indicative of systemic deficiencies. The second audit reviewed 25 FISA applications and found “apparent errors or inadequately supported facts” in every single case file examined. The same report 1 identified 4 additional cases where the associated Woods Files, which are intended to help ensure the accuracy of FISA applications, could not be found at all. Moreover, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence Annual Transparency report revealed that the intelligence agencies have had a zero percent compliance rate with 2018 reforms that required a court order for accessing Americans’ communications in certain contexts. These reports are further evidence of systemic and widespread deficiencies within the intelligence courts and laws.

In case anyone wants more information on the amendments proposed by the bipartisan group of Senators mentioned, you can find it in the letter.