House votes to reform NSA surveillance

tsj column writers - power and politicsBy Zachary Toillion

Since the Summer of 2013, a fierce debate has raged in the country regarding the line between safety and civil liberties. The disclosures of Edward Snowden regarding NSA mass surveillance have been the subject of documentaries, news stories and conversations throughout the country.

In response to Snowden’s revelations, the House passed legislation in 2014 that would draw back the scope of the NSA’s ability to monitor the interactions of American citizens. The vote was lopsided and featured a bipartisan mix of legislators. The bill passed 303-121 in the House, but the Senate voted 58-42 to adopt the bill, just short of the 60 votes needed for the bill to become law.

Last week the House voted on the bill again, dubbed the USA Freedom Act. This time the bill passed by an even larger margin of 338 to 88. If a similar increase in support of the bill is seen in the Senate, the bill would pass into law and would be signed by President Obama who has expressed his support.

The USA Freedom Act vote comes shortly before Congress decides whether or not to reauthorize the PATRIOT Act. The NSA’s surveillance powers are derived from a provision within the law. In the aftermath of 9/11, the PATRIOT Act was passed overwhelmingly with bipartisan majorities in both chambers of Congress. Subsequent votes in 2006 and 2011 have seen those majorities erode significantly. Congress must reauthorize the act in June, and if the trend continues the reauthorization vote will be the closest yet.

Adding to the mix is presidential politics, with Republican Sen. Rand Paul planning on launching a verbal filibuster of the reauthorization bill. Other 2016 candidates, including Democratic Sen. Bernie Sanders, also oppose the bill and may be inclined to join in on Paul’s filibuster.

The big political fight come June will be over the power of government surveillance and its role in reducing terrorism.

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