Reprinted from Smirking Chimp
This week, for the first time in years, everyday Americans can theoretically make a phone call without the government spying on them.
That's because just after midnight Sunday night, Section 215 of the Patriot Act expired.
Section 215, of course, is the part of Patriot Act that the NSA uses to collect the phone records of millions of people.
Lawmakers had known for months that it was going to expire, but thanks to opposition from Rand Paul and a handful of other senators, the Senate was unable to come to a deal to extend it and several other key parts of the Patriot Act before a midnight deadline.
This, of course, is a big PR victory for Paul, who's banked his entire presidential campaign on his history of standing up to the surveillance state.
It's still too soon to see, though, whether or not this will have any real, lasting victory for privacy rights.
That's because while Rand Paul got the campaign highlight he wanted when the government began shutting down its bulk metadata collection program, Congress could, in just a matter of days, reauthorize that program with only a few cosmetic changes.
You see, at the same time as Rand Paul was hamming it up for the cameras last night, the Senate voted to take up the so-called USA Freedom Act.
Passed by the House earlier in May, this bill would extend the three parts of the Patriot Act that expired at midnight and make a few minor changes to the NSA's mass surveillance program.
But despite its nice-sounding name, the USA Freedom Act is really just more of the same.
Shahid Buttar of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee explained why when he came on this program a few weeks ago.
Now, Mitch McConnell will allow Senators to make amendments to the USA Freedom Act, but the only thing that's really going to put the legacy of the Bush years behind us is to let the Patriot Act expire entirely -- as parts of it have already done.
Unfortunately, that's probably not going to happen.
Come Tuesday or Wednesday, the Senate will probably pass the USA Freedom Act and the NSA's mass surveillance programs will go on as before, with a few minor changes.
That's because in the 14 years since President Bush signed the Patriot Act into law, US society has fundamentally changed -- for the worse.
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