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Legislation Seeks to Repeal U.S. Patriot Act, Limit Domestic Spying

A newly proposed, bipartisan bill would repeal both the Patriot Act of 2001 and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Amendments Act (FISA) of 2008 that allow the federal government to spy on people without warrants and probable cause.

The Protect Our Civil Liberties Act, H.R. 8970, sponsored by Reps. Thomas Massie (R-KY) and Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), would bar the government from collecting Americans’ personal data, such as phone records and emails. Gabbard and Massie contend that the Patriot Act and FISA Amendments Act violate Americans’ civil liberties and right to privacy as granted in the Constitution.

The bill could stir up the ongoing tussle between government and private industry over national security and individual privacy. Gabbard’s and Massie’s measure would bar the government from insisting that back door technology be baked into hardware and software to enable officials to skirt encryption tools. It would also prevent the government from going after national security whistleblowers. To assure compliance, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) would be directed to monitor domestic surveillance programs.

Both Congressional members positioned the bill as protecting Americans’ civil liberties and right to privacy as granted in the 4th Amendment to the Constitution. “In the last two decades, in part because of information revealed by Edward Snowden, we now know that there have been ongoing breaches of our civil liberties through programs that were instituted through the Patriot Act and the FISA Amendments Act, which basically allowed agencies within our government to conduct mass illegal surveillance on Americans without a warrant or probable cause,” Gabbard said in a video describing the bill. She also criticized the U.S. intelligence community for a lack of transparency and honesty with the American people and Congress.

Massie, who is a member of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, called the bill “basically a cornucopia of civil liberties,” in an interview with Fox Business. “This would be great to pass…I believe [whistleblowers like Edward Snowden] did a great service to this country. He deserves a pardon,” Massie said. (In 2013, Snowden leaked highly classified material about the U.S. National Security Agency’s global surveillance program. Later that year, he was charged with violating the Espionage Act of 1917. Snowden currently lives in Russia where he has been granted asylum.

Gabbard recently introduced a House Resolution to help small businesses survive the pandemic by preventing crisis profiteering by tech companies and big box retailers that have thrived in the contagion. The Resolution would tax large companies at a 95 percent rate of excess profits made during the pandemic and direct those funds to provide economic support to small businesses.

In October, 2020, Gabbard introduced H.Res.1162 with Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) and H.Res.1175 with Massie. The former called on the federal government to drop all charges against Edward Snowden and the latter defended the freedom of the press and called on the federal government to drop all charges against Julian Assange.

Here’s specifically what H.R. 8970 would do:

  • Repeal the Patriot Act and the the FISA Amendments Act.
  • Make retaliation against federal national security whistleblowers illegal and provide for the termination of individuals who engage in such retaliation.
  • Ensure that any FISA collection against a U.S. person can only occur with a valid warrant based on probable cause.
  • Retain the ability for government surveillance capabilities to be targeted against a specific non-U.S. person, regardless of the type of communications method(s) or device(s) being used by the subject of the surveillance.
  • Retain provisions in current law dealing with the acquisition of intelligence information involving weapons of mass destruction from entities not composed primarily of U.S. persons.
  • Prohibit government-mandated back doors in electric devices or software that allow the government to bypass encryption or other privacy technology built into said hardware and/or software.
  • Increase the terms of judges on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) from seven to 10 years and allow their reappointment.
  • Mandate that the FISC use technologically competent technical and legal experts to help determine the veracity of government claims about privacy, minimization and collection capabilities employed by the U.S. government in FISA applications.
  • Mandate that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) regularly monitor such domestic surveillance programs for compliance with the law, including responding to member requests for investigations and whistleblower complaints of wrongdoing.
  • Explicitly ban the use of Executive Order 12333 as a way of conducting surveillance on U.S. persons or mass collection of information.
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