FISA reform advocates unhappy with vote delay

FISA and Patriot Act reform advocates vowed to not quit despite yesterday’s shenanigans involving the House Judiciary Committee.

“The job of the intelligence committees was always supposed to be to hold our nation’s intelligence agencies accountable to their legal and constitutional boundaries,” FreedomWorks Vice President of Legislative Affairs Jason Pye fumed after Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler called off the hearing at the behest of Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff. “Yet even after a litany of disclosures that have shown millions of innocent Americans being subject to surveillance, the very idea that the Judiciary Committee might produce a bill that would address some of these problems was apparently too much for Chairman Schiff…”

Schiff’s involvement has to do with several amendments put forth by Democrat California Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren to the USA Freedom Reauthorization Act. Nadler and Schiff made some sort of deal that banned amendments to the bill; an agreement Lofgren found untenable.

“I reject that categorization of what we’re doing here,” Lofgren told POLITICO yesterday. “We’re making policy. This isn’t some game where side-deals that are done in secret without the concurrence of the committees of jurisdiction is somehow binding on the members of the committee.”

Reformers agree.

“Current law subjects millions of Americans to warrantless surveillance and allows federal agencies to regularly violate our Constitutional rights,” Due Process Institute Founder and President Shana-Tara O’Toole said in a statement while noting there were ways to improve the reforms. “We cannot allow Congressional leadership to stand in the way of the current bipartisan momentum to reform our surveillance policies in a manner that protects the Constitutional rights of all Americans without harming our national security. The American people are calling on Congress to act and these reforms deserve good faith deliberation without partisan games.”

Progressive surveillance reform advocates also vented their rage at Schiff, who’s issued nary a peep about what happened yesterday.

“Judiciary Committee members were expected to offer amendments to the USA FREEDOM Act that would have protected Americans’ civil liberties…” said Demand Progress Policy Director Daniel Schuman. “Instead, Rep. Schiff told Chairman Nadler that if he allowed any substantive amendments, he would kill the bill. (He has done this before.)”

The USA FREEDOM Reauthorization Act appeared to be a step in the right direction on solving the problem: mass surveillance and the collection of data. Yes, the NSA stopped the call details program last year, but the reforms would have kept the agency from re-starting the program.

Defenders of the program still have plenty of questions to answer about its usefulness. The Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board issued a report to Congress this week noting the call details program was cited 15 times over its four-year period of operation. Unique information was found twice, with the FBI deciding once no further action was needed. The results of the second case are still classified but the board reported U.S. authorities already knew about the suspected phone number.

The cost of this program? $100M according to The New York Times. Talk about not getting your bang for your buck.

What happens next is a bit hazy, but reforms still need to be considered.

“Our Fourth Amendment protections against unwarranted government intrusion are not a bargaining chip,” Pye declared yesterday. “If Chairman Schiff wants to pull serious reform off the table, then maybe it’s finally time that we let these problematic portions of the Patriot Act expire.”

Pye has a point although the fear is whether or not the NSA will go ahead and restart the program surreptitiously or come up with a new way to collect phone data. It’s not a bad idea to make sure there are restraints on government activities.

Reforms are needed and renewing FISA and the Patriot Act without changes is a bad idea. Do your job, Nadler! Hold the hearing and allow amendments.