By Janet Phelan
In a vote of 80-16, the US Senate yesterday approved HR 6172, which reauthorizes several surveillance authorities originally passed into law via the USA PATRIOT Act as temporary measures. HR 6172 cements the collection of business records, the “roving wiretap provision,” and the so-called “lone wolf provision,” which allows the surveillance of those with no known connection to terrorist organizations. While the FBI has testified to the Congress that the “lone wolf provision” has never been used, this is widely thought to be inaccurate and that this provision is the authority under which US citizens, activists and journalists, are being widely surveilled.
Several amendments were proposed to the Senate, only one of which passed. Senator Mike Lee, R-Utah, had proposed an amendment which would guarantee the participation of an Amicus Curiae (Friend of the Court) in cases involving requests for permission from FISA to surveil political figures, religious organizations and the press. This amendment passed by a vote of 77-19.
The Wyden-Daines amendment would have restricted the collection of browser activity and internet search history. This amendment also failed.
Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) had proposed a widely publicized amendment which would prohibit the surveillance of American citizens, excluding Americans from the provisions involving wiretapping and data collection tools authorized by the FISA court. This amendment went down in flames, receiving 11 yea votes and 85 votes against.
In a speech on the Senate floor, Paul had this to say about HR 6172:
To those of us that prize the rights guaranteed in the Bill of Rights, the Patriot Act is a violation of our most precious rights. The Patriot Act, in the end, is not patriotic. The Patriot Act makes an unholy and unconstitutional exchange of liberty for a false sense of security.
The failure of Paul’s amendment points to an uncomfortable reality: it is appearing more and more that our government is dedicated to the surveillance of Americans. With Osama Bin Laden dead and ISIS under siege, one would wonder what is so compelling about the phone calls, internet activity and more of a growing number of American citizens who are now watchlisted.