In my dotage, I’ve come to recognize that the more “patriotic” a law’s name (or, *cringe*, acronym**), the more Orwellian it will be. Viewed in that light, the USA FREEDOM Act was always going to be a terrifying piece of legislation, wasn’t it? It turns out that it absolutely lived up to my expectations, although we’d have never known it without the work of one Mr. Snowden.
A bill attempting to apply a few modest (and frankly, insufficient) controls to the USA FREEDOM act recent popped up in the Senate and went down in flames. I’ll be honest with you: I didn’t ever expect the Senate to pass any kind of restrictions against the data gathering operations the NSA operates against everyone in the U.S. That being the case, the best entertainment was had watching the shadow theater around the vote itself.
The final vote was 58 for the restrictions, 42 against, but I don’t believe it really as close as that. Once a certain party was sure that they had enough votes to kill the bill, they could allow Senators to fashion their votes to match their constituency, or, at the very least let the folks with the extremely safe seats do the wetwork (John Cornyn, I’m looking at you), Watching semi-Libertarian Ted Cruz vote for civil liberties and extreme-Libertarian Rand Paul vote against them was a beautiful dance, if you’re in to that sort of thing.
There were, of course, over-the-top statements concerning the apocalyptic consequences of the bill passing or failing, but my favorite bit came from Michael Hayden (former CIA and NSA head honcho) and Michael Mukasey (a former U.S. Attorney General. They describe the bill as the kind of “NSA reform that only ISIS could love.” It’s a beautiful statement in that it gets so much wrong in so few words.
Who cares what ISIS think? It’s a fallacy to suggest that anything your enemies might like is bad. Hitler would probably have liked painting landscapes, but that doesn’t mean painting landscapes is bad. You see where I said “probably?” That’s important, because, here’s the deal: I am not Hitler and I do not know what he would have thought, any more than Mukasey and Hayden know what ISIS thinks about the American government spy on American citizens.
Of course, ISIS is just the bogeyman of the hour. If it hadn’t been ISIS, it would have been al Qaeda, or the USSR, or something like that. Inevitably, we’re told “they hate us for our freedom!”*** That’s bullshit. Can you imagine the ISIS folks sitting around in the desert thinking “oooh, those rascally Americans. They’re so free it makes me sick! I want to sneak across the Mexican border and blow stuff up!” It’s absurd, but to their credit, Mukasey and Hayden say it with a straight face.
So, after a little bit of drama, things go back to how they’ve been since 9/11: The federal government can point to scary foreigners as a justification to restrict the freedoms of Americans and allow the DHS to carry out its primary mission: Copyright enforcement. Same as it ever was.
* Yes, it’s a PWEI reference. Because PWEI > everything.
** It stands for, and I’m not making this up: Uniting and Strengthening America by Fulfilling Rights and Ending Eavesdropping, Dragnet-Collection, and Online Monitoring Act. It is, of course, a law enabling eavesdropping, dragnet-collection, and online monitoring. Orwell would be very proud indeed.