March 27, 2014
After President Obama announced his willingness to really end the bulk collection of phone records under Section 215 of the Patriot Act, Senator Patrick Leahy pointed out that the easiest way to do that was to simply not ask the FISA Court to renew that authority this Friday when it expired. The NY Times editorial board picked up that ball and ran with it, publishing an editorial saying that if the President wants us to believe he’s serious about ending bulk phone surveillance he should end the program on Friday.
No such luck.
While plenty of people are still waiting for the actual “legislative package” the administration claims it’s putting together to accomplish its plan to end bulk phone record collection (but not other bulk collections), the White House has now released a “fact sheet” about its plans that concludes at the bottom by saying that the President has still asked the DOJ to renew the authority:
Legislation will be needed to implement the President’s proposal. The Administration has been in consultation with congressional leadership and members of the Intelligence and Judiciary Committees on this important issue throughout the last year, and we look forward to continuing to work with Congress to pass a bill that achieves the goals the President has put forward. Given that this legislation will not be in place by March 28 and given the importance of maintaining the capabilities in question, the President has directed DOJ to seek from the FISC a 90-day reauthorization of the existing program, which includes the substantial modifications in effect since February.
There are still numerous questions raised by the President’s proposal, and it really seems entirely focused on just one problematic aspect of the NSA’s surveillance capabilities. Yes, it’s the part that has received the most attention, and yes it’s the part that also has been shown to have never actually been useful. But this proposal seems a lot more focused on pre-empting much more comprehensive legislation like the USA Freedom Act. Furthermore, the fact that the President still refuses to just kill off the program while waiting for Congress to act suggests this is all for show. Tossing this on Congress is a great way for the President to pretend to do something while knowing nothing will actually happen.