The vital cause of NSA reform—which seemed to be gaining strength as not just citizens but their elected representatives came to recognize the consequences of the issues raised by Edward Snowden’s leaks—has hit a rough spot in recent weeks. Allies of the cause are being defeated or abandoning their principles and major initiatives are failing.
The first bad news came November 4, when Colorado Senator Mark Udall lost his campaign for a second term. In his first term, the Democrat had emerged as one of the steadiest, and frequently most aggressive, critics of National Security Agency abuses. Arguing that there was “a groundswell of public support for reform,” and that such reform had to “reject half-measures that could still allow the government to collect millions of Americans’ records without any individual suspicion or evidence of wrongdoing,” Udall worked with Oregon Democrat Ron Wyden and Kentucky Republican Rand Paul to get Congress to crack down on the NSA.
Udall is still in the Senate until January, and he moved in the immediate aftermath of his defeat to gain Senate support for at least a small measure of NSA reform. But even that initiative fell short Tuesday night, as Udall and his allies could muster only fifty-eight of the sixty needed votes to prohibit the NSA from holding the phone records of Americans and to establish better procedures for challenging the claims and initiatives of government agencies that overreach.
Though the measure fell far short of what was needed, the American Civil Liberties Union argued that the so-called “USA Freedom Act,” which was introduced by outgoing Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, “is our chance to turn the tide on suspicionless mass surveillance, restoring some of the crucial privacy protections lost with passage of the Patriot Act in 2001.”
The ACLU advocated aggressively for the measure on the grounds that it send the right signal with regard to legislative oversight and that it would begin to establish better frameworks for protecting liberties by
*Ending nationwide bulk surveillance and limiting the government’s ability to engage in broad surveillance that inappropriately sweeps up the communications of thousands of people under Section 215 of the Patriot Act, national security letters, and pen register authorities.