Others’ Opinion: Don’t repeat flaws of the Patriot Act

Published 9:41 am Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The Mankato Free Press

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency

The Patriot Act was rushed through Congress 14 years ago amid the obvious fear following 9/11.

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Since then, particularly since Edward Snowden’s revelations of invasion of privacy by the National Security Agency, the wisdom of the Patriot Act’s sweeping authority for spy agencies has been looked at more soberly.

Defenders of the NSA’s bulk collection of telephone records of millions of Americans continue to argue the practice — and others like it — are necessary to protect against the dangers of terrorism. Some have claimed warrantless mass surveillance led to the arrest of terrorist David Headley — who killed 166 in Mumbai.

But a ProPublica investigation found NSA spying played an insignificant part in capturing Headley.

Other cases where the NSA said their mass surveillance led to the prevention of terrorism have also been widely discredited.

Even the congressional Joint Inquiry into Intelligence Activities before and after the attacks on the Twin Towers found that the Patriot Act would not have prevented the 9/11 attacks.

The language in the Patriot Act that gives the NSA and FBI its broadly expanded snooping capabilities is to expire next month.

Fortunately there has been no appetite in Congress to renew the language and allow the NSA such unfettered freedom. Replacement legislation — the USA Freedom Act — is, however, moving through the House where it is expected to pass. The bill would supposedly stop the mass collection of phone records by the government and would leave the records in the possession of telecommunications companies. The NSA, FBI or others would need to go to court and show reasonable suspicion that they need to search phone records for a specific term that could be tied to terrorism.

But many critics, including Sen. Rand Paul, say the so-called Freedom Act is filled with loopholes that would leave the NSA mostly unfettered in its mass surveillance.

The evidence is clear that American’s loss of privacy rights created by the Patriot Act haven’t made us safer. Congress shouldn’t replace it with legislation that does more of the same.