In the episode of HBO’s “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver,” Oliver discusses the issue of government surveillance and the impending reauthorization of the Patriot Act and all its controversial provisions. The Act, which is due to voting in Congress on June first, gives power to certain federal appliances to access records and other items under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. It also sanctions the government to require businesses to hand over archives of any tangible registers, documents, and other articles it may deem necessary for protection against terrorism.
The ratification of the Act in its present form is a major problem because it gives the government powers to commit nefarious acts against citizens. The Act allows the government to collect and store phone histories of Americans, the majority of whom have no association with terrorism. Section 702 gives the National Security Agency (NSA) power to collect bulk information from the internet. Even though Section 215 tries to limit bulk collection of calling records to instances where there is ‘reasonable, articulable suspicion,’ Section 702 does not require an explicit warrant. Moreover, the Act allows the government to declassify some significant FISA court opinions and defines ‘significant’ to include any freshconstrual of “specific selection term’ thereby giving the NSA power to act as it deems fit. The provisions for “specific selection term” only relate to domestic communication. When communication like emails passes through an overseas server, they may be pulled into the NSA database even though they were not the target of NSA searches.
Another issue is that the Act only governs the right of privacy for Americans and not foreigners. The NSA has continually been accused of spying on foreign governments and diplomats and was involved in a key scandal when it was revealed that the NSA had tapped into the communications of German Chancellor Angela Merkel. The NSA has also been accused of violating the specifications of the Act. InJewel v. NSA, the plaintiff accuses the defendant of violating the provisions of the Fourth Amendment by copying internet traffic from the internet backbone.
Then Act requires significant modifications for it to safeguard the interests of both US and non-US citizens. Firstly, the clearly mandated procedures to delete any information unrelated to the target of an investigation need to be added back to the bill. By so doing, there will be stronger privacy protections beyond the “narrow specification term.” Moreover, as much of the problems stem from the lack of oversight and rampant secrecy, the broken classification system that shields the public from matters of public importance needs to be fixed. The NSA also needs to formulate concrete methodologies that can be used to separate out communications between Americans from emails involving a foreigner.
In addition, the provision curtailing any amendments to the Patriot Act while on the floor of the house should be removed since when deliberations are occurring some issues that need rectifying may arise. With regards to the surveillance of non-Americans, the Executive Order 12333 requires revision in order to safeguard their rights. In the meantime, civil organizations, businesses, and citizens should pressure legislators to change the controversial provisions of the Act. Communications corporations should also encrypt their communications in such a way that the NSA cannot intercept or access them. It is important to cognize that much more needs to be done in ending the untargeted surveillance of innocent people both in the US and around the world.