We live in an age where image is replacing reality as the common currency in media and politics. Style and narrative have long ago triumphed over substance, and black is now being routinely marketed as the new white. So, is the Freedom Act a genuine piece of real reforming legislation, or just another set of virtual blah-blah?
The mainstream media, maybe predictably, tells us the Freedom Act is a Good Thing.
U.S. Surveillance in Place Since 9/11 Is Sharply Limited, was the NYT comment, June 3, going on to say:
In a significant scaling back of national security policy formed after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the Senate on Tuesday approved legislation curtailing the federal government’s sweeping surveillance of American phone records, and President Obama signed the measure hours later.
The passage of the bill — achieved over the fierce opposition of the Senate majority leader — will allow the government to restart surveillance operations, but with new restrictions.
The article comes replete with a “lone idiot” we are invited to deplore in the person of Senator Mitch McConnell, an avid supporter of the now entirely reviled Patriot Act, who is describing this new Act as a “dangerous diminishment of national security,” and being presented as a bit of a fool for doing so. Whatever his personal motives, McDonnell’s intervention as described in the paper, has the effect of subliminally reinforcing the notion that this Act is a genuine step towards dismantling the surveillance state. If it weren’t, why would advocates of the Patriot Act be opposing it? I think that’s what were are supposed to conclude.
The Guardian takes a similar view. . “NSA reform advances as Senate moves to vote on USA Freedom Act – as it happened” was the headline of a rolling news page on June 1, counting down to the expiration of the Patriot Act at midnight. “Congress passes NSA surveillance reform in vindication for Snowden” was another piece from June 3:
The US Senate on Tuesday passed a bill to end the bulk collection of millions of Americans’ phone records, ushering in the country’s most significant surveillance reform since 1978 two years after NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden’s revelations to the Guardian….
The passage of the USA Freedom Act paves the way for telecom companies to assume responsibility of the controversial phone records collection program, while also bringing to a close a short lapse in the broad NSA and FBI domestic spying authorities. Those powers expired with key provisions of the Patriot Act at 12.01am on Monday amid a showdown between defense hawks and civil liberties advocates.
“Revelations to the Guardian” is endearing. It seems to hope people will simply forget how that turned out and the craven caving that followed, and conclude that the Guardian is still all about “speaking truth to power.” Sadly, the article itself proves how entirely untrue this is. Despite including some lukewarm criticisms from The American Civil Liberties Union, Sen. Bernie Sanders, and others, who are all quoted as saying the Act could go further, the overwhelming tenor is, as in the NYT, the age of mass surveillance is dead. Snowden (and of course the fearless crusading Guardian) has triumphed.
The Guardian doesn’t interrogate the nature of the transference of responsibility for the “collection program” to the “telecom companies”, and notably doesn’t say exactly how this will lead to less surveillance. It just says that it will, as if that were enough. Like the NYT – very like it – this article includes a lot of reference to the opposition of Mitch McConnell, which, again causes that subliminal association – if McConnell is opposing it, there must be something real to oppose. It ends triumphally predicting this is “just the beginning” of the rollback of government spying.
For the Freedom Act to be a beginning it has to have begun something. It has to actually be about curtailing government snooping. But is it? Beyond the fluff and hype, how much close analysis can this Freedom Act stand?
The MSM don’t seem interested in asking this question, and certainly don’t go off script enough to do any of their own delving, so as usual now it’s left to the alt media. Fortunately some of them even do that “journalism” thing the Guardian and NYT might dimly remember being their purview before they were reduced to regurgitating Langley press releases in sometimes questionable prose.
Global Research is not impressed. In an in-depth article entitled Deceptions of Freedom: Reviving the Patriot Act, it concludes bleakly:
The security complex that feeds off the carrion of the Republic continues, invasive, hefty and voracious. This legislation was merely the most minor adjustment, the most modest of changes in diet.
In an article titled “NSA Is Back Online After Senate Passes “USA Freedom Act“, Zero Hedge has this to say:
while on the surface this appears to be a victory, we rather skeptically suggest it merely changes the place where the bulk data is stored… and even more cynically leaves the data access less open to FOIA requests as it is now private property (not government).
Realistically it appears nothing more than a great PR effort to bury the spy state even deeper (and we wonder just what will happen to the Bluffdale, Utah NSA Data Center)?
In a piece from last November called “The ‘USA Freedom Act’ Is A Fraud” AntiWar.com attempts to set the current situation in the context of the recent history. It reminds us that the original Freedom Act was “gutted” in the Judiciary Committee, where real freedom was replaced with the diet version, and surveillance, rather than being curtailed was simply relocated:
Rather than fundamentally changing the way the NSA scoops up data, the bill merely outsources collection to immunized telecoms, compelling them to do the NSA’s dirty work.
The “Freedom Act” is quite free with its Orwellian redefinition of common words to mean the exact opposite of what they have traditionally meant: for example, the bill defines a “selector” in such a way as to permit NSA to report a dragnet order collecting everyone’s VISA bill as a single order targeting specific alleged terrorist outfits – when, in the real world, it would legalize surveillance of over 300 million US citizens. No wonder Deputy NSA Director Richard Ledgett says that under the terms of the bill “the actual universe of potential calls that could be queried against is [potentially] dramatically larger.”
LewRockwell.com gives us a list of reasons why it believes “the FREEDOM Act is worse than the PATRIOT Act.” Number one of which is:
The government was breaking the law each time it grabbed our metadata. The moment the FREEDOM is signed by President Obama that same activity will become legal.
In other words, illegal data collection is being ended – by legalising it. The other reasons LR lists are also worth reading:
2) The FREEDOM Act turns private telecommunications companies into agents of state security. They will be required to store our personal information and hand it over to state security organs upon demand. How do we know this development is a step in the wrong direction? It is reportedly the brainchild of Gen. Keith B. Alexander, the NSA director at the time! According to press reports, this was but a public relations move to deflect criticism of the bulk collection program. Alexander “saw the move as a way for Obama to respond to public criticism without losing programs the NSA deemed more essential,” reports Homeland Security News.
3) The FREEDOM Act turns private telecommunications companies into depositories of “pre-crime” data for future use of state security agencies. It is a classic authoritarian move for the state to co-opt and subsume the private sector. Once the FREEDOM Act is signed, Americans’ telecommunications information will be retained by the telecommunications companies for the use of state security agencies in potential future investigations. In other words, an individual under no suspicion of any crime and thus deserving full Fourth and Fifth Amendment protection will nevertheless find himself providing evidence against his future self should that person ever fall under suspicion. That is not jurisprudence in a free society.
4) The FREEDOM Act provides liability protection for the telecommunications firms who steal and store our private telecommunications information. In other words, there is not a thing you can do about the theft as long as the thief is a “private” agent of the state.
So, is this just a lot of paranoia? Or is the Freedom Act as Orwellian as the name suggests? Designed to make us believe we are being liberated when in fact we are being enslaved?