Niskanen Center Remains Hopeful For USA FREEDOM Act’s Prospects And Supports The Expiration of Section 215

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Niskanen Center is encouraged by the recent expiration of Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act and is optimistic that moving forward the Senate will continue pushing for the passage of the USA FREEDOM Act.

Previously, the House passed USA FREEDOM in a 338-88 vote, but the Senate failed to pass the bill, falling three votes short of the necessary 60 required for further consideration. Yesterday, however, the Senate voted 77-17 to move forward with consideration of the USA FREEDOM Act while failing to prevent the sunset clause of Section 215’s provisions permitting the bulk collection of telephone metadata.

“We applaud the Senate’s vote to advance the USA FREEDOM Act. With Section 215 sunsetting, we are hopeful that the Senate will take this opportunity to recognize that the provision’s expiration will demonstrate that the bulk collection of Americans’ telephone metadata was never a necessary precondition for keeping Americans secure,” said Ryan Hagemann, the Niskanen Center’s civil liberties policy analyst. “Moving forward, the Senate now has an opportunity to engage in a fruitful debate that will hopefully result in a more comprehensive law that respects the privacy of Americans, while serving the need to provide law enforcement and the intelligence community with reasonable, and constitutional, tools to serve the national security interest.”

The Niskanen Center has been supportive of the USA FREEDOM Act, which, though far from ideal, is an important first step towards moving America away from the troubling status quo imposed by provisions of the PATRIOT Act in the post-9/11 world. Although many of the proposed amendments to USA FREEDOM would likely water down the bill and negatively impact the positive reform elements contained in the bill, it is uplifting to see the Senate reverse its course on the reform measure’s consideration.

“We should not let the perfect be the enemy of the good,” said Hagemann. “While there are many issues with the USA FREEDOM Act, it is nonetheless a good step in the right direction. Now that the more onerous components of the PATRIOT Act have been tacitly permitted to sunset, the Senate is in an excellent position to pause and reconsider the value of these types of surveillance programs. We are optimistic that this is the first step towards a freer, more constitutionally acceptable approach to securing Americans’ security. The battle to reform the surveillance state has only just begun.”