USA Freedom Act: the good, the bad, and what's next

With the sunsetting of Section 215 of the Patriot Act and the passage of the USA Freedom Act, Congress has, for the first time since the 1970s, put limits on the surveillance powers of America's spooks.

Putting brakes on the NSA sounds like good news, but this is an incredibly low bar to hurdle. After all, every other surveillance bill since the 1970s has radically expanded surveillance powers, and USA Freedom only curbs them in the most modest of ways.

But it's also a significant moment. The people who care about digital freedom have shown that they can defeat terrible legislation like SOPA and PIPA, but for the first time, the public pressure for a more free Internet has passed a bill that puts limits on the powers of the state to surveil Internet users. We've leveled up.

Now it's time to press the fight. There's plenty of other legal malware floating around, providing legal cover for mass surveillance, and it all needs to die in a fire: FISA 702 (which sunsets in 2017 unless it's renewed by Congress); Executive Order 12333, which the President can eliminate at the stroke of a pen, and overclassification, which will need new legislation to combat.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation's Cindy Cohn and Mark Jaycox set out a roadmap for the fight ahead of us:

We fought hard to get to this moment in history. Our long-term goals are ambitious—the end of overbroad surveillance of all digital communications, a recognition of the privacy rights of people outside the United States, and strong accountability and oversight for surveillance practices. Today's Senate vote did not accomplish these things, but it did move us a bit closer. It also demonstrated the political will and organization of the digital rights community, which we know will continue to fight for stronger reforms. It will also hopefully embolden Congress to feel that they can bring a sensible balance to surveillance policy and practice. We extend our thanks to all of our supporters across the globe who fought so hard to bring us to this historic moment, and we look forward to working alongside you as we continue to curb abuses by the surveillance state in the years to come.

USA Freedom Act Passes: What We Celebrate, What We Mourn, and Where We Go From Here
[Cindy Cohn and Mark Jaycox/EFF]

David Goehring, CC-BY