Thursday, May 22, 2014

Small Victory Against the NSA

Somewhat good news coming from Congress:

In an overwhelmingly bipartisan vote that would have been unthinkable just a few months ago, the House on Thursday approved a bill to cancel the government’s bulk-data collection programs, including the NSA’s phone-records snooping.

Less than a year after the program was first revealed by former government contractor Edward Snowden, the 303-121 vote to halt bulk data collection shows just how quickly a consensus developed against the NSA’s secret program.

“This is the end of secret laws,” said Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., the author of the original Patriot Act, who said he felt betrayed by the way the government used that law. “We have turned the tables on the NSA, and say we are watching you — and we will.”

But the bill is far less than civil liberties groups had wanted, and does still allow the National Security Agency to collect data under court order in certain conditions involving foreign agents — conditions that some lawmakers said they are afraid the NSA will distort to ramp up its bulk collection to again grab information on Americans.

The problem is, the NSA started this data collection illegally to begin with.  They were never authorized by any elected official to implement this kind of data collection on US citizens.  So the NSA was, in effect, breaking the law and their leaders should have been brought up on criminal charges.

Sadly, this is not how government works.  No high-level government official is ever indicted for any crime they commit while working in an official capacity and, most of the time, when they are not working as a government official.  US citizens are living in what is essentially an aristocracy where crime only really applies to those are not in the club.

So what we have now is a Congress passing a law to shut down a good chunk of NSA surveillance that they didn’t authorize to begin with.  And the thought doesn’t even cross their minds to go and designate a special prosecutor to deal with a rogue agency.

Still, this is a victory, no matter how small.  While it may not last, it is something and demonstrates that Congress is at least attuned to the people to some small degree.