With key provisions of the USA Patriot Act nearing a long-awaited expiration date, there remains one last adversary to take down in the fight for privacy rights: the corporate media.
The most recent case is the New York Times, which on Thursday quoted several anonymous White House officials who warned that allowing the Patriot Act to sunset is akin to “playing national security Russian roulette” and leaves intelligence agencies in “uncharted waters…fraught with unnecessary risk.”
If Congress fails to strike a deal to renew the Patriot Act’s controversial Section 215 by its June 1 deadline, the officials warned that the result would “suspend crucial domestic surveillance authority at a time of mounting terrorism threats.”
But as other national security experts note, the Patriot Act is far from a safeguard against terrorism. In an op-ed published last Sunday, ACLU legal deputy director Jameel Jaffer criticized the media’s choice of publishing such quotes wholesale without challenging their veracity. The “claim that the expiration of Section 215 would deprive the government of necessary investigative tools or compromise national security,” wrote Jaffer, “is entirely without support.”
In a last-ditch effort to scare lawmakers into preserving unpopular and much-abused surveillance authorities, the Senate Republican leadership and some intelligence officials are warning that allowing Section 215 of the Patriot Act to sunset would compromise national security.
The sunset of Section 215 would undoubtedly be a significant political loss for the intelligence community, and it would be a sensible first step towards broader reform of the surveillance laws, but there’s no support for the argument that the sunset of Section 215 would compromise national security.