Members of Congress who support mass government surveillance are, for once, facing a little resistance. Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which authorizes the phone dragnet that was ruled illegal by a federal court, is scheduled to expire on June 1. At the moment it does not appear that there are enough votes to pass an extension.
But a group of lawmakers who are disproportionately supported by big Intelligence contractors have a plan to make sure the government’s mass surveillance power does not eclipse. They have a bill that would extend Section 215 while also amending it so that the National Security Agency’s (NSA) surveillance programs can pass judicial muster. It would technically end the government’s bulk collection of phone data, but it would also give the NSA new powers to continue and expand its mass surveillance of Americans’ communications.
It’s been given an appropriately Orwellian title (the “USA Freedom Act”), and it has already been approved by the House of Representatives.
Fight for the Future has outlined many of the ways in which the USA Freedom Act perpetuates and expands mass surveillance. But you don’t have to simply take their word for it (or mine). Just follow the money and you’ll find patterns showing that the members of Congress supporting the USA Freedom Act are siding with their donors in the defense industry that benefit from surveillance by way of Intelligence contracts.
Members of the House who voted for the USA Freedom Act received, on average, more than 2.2 as much money from the defense industry during the last election cycle than did the members of the House who voted against it.
That’s according to an analysis I conducted of campaign contributions data that is made available by OpenSecrets. The members of the House who voted for it got, on average, about $38,000 from the defense companies over the two-year period while the members who voted against it got about $17,000.
Intelligence contractors, which largely consist of big defense industry organizations like Lockheed Martin, Booz Allen Hamilton, and Northrop Grumman, account for 70 percent of the government’s Intelligence budget. The Intelligence budget is classified, but it’s estimated to be about $100 billion annually, so these contractors probably earn about $70 billion per year from these programs. They have a clear financial stake in perpetuating and expanding the government’s surveillance activities, which is exactly what I and others believe the USA Freedom Act would do.
The USA Freedom Act is being rushed to the floor of the Senate this week (a vote is possible as soon as Tuesday, May 19, 2015). There may also be votes in the Senate on a straight renewal of Section 215 of the Patriot Act. It’s unclear how the votes will play out, but I’m hoping that the “do-nothing Congress” will live up to its name and simply let Section 215 of the Patriot Act (and the illegal mass surveillance it authorizes) expire at the end of the month.