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Senate Passes Patriot Act Revisions With Less Big Government Snooping; Mitch McConnell Has A Hissy

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Oh, thank goodness, we're safe from terrorists again! Tuesday, the Senate voted to pass the "USA Freedom Act," which is a lot like the Patriot Act only with some changes that limit the NSA's ability to scoop up all our metadata (which most of us weren't using anyway so we're not sure what the big deal was). President Obama signed the thing late Tuesday night, and now the Homeland is once again secure, only not secure enough for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who had himself a nice little hissy fit just before the Senate vote:

“Today, the Senate will vote to take away one more tool from those who defend this country every day,” the majority leader said after three amendments he had pushed were voted down. Quoting a recent article from The Associated Press, he called the vote a “‘resounding victory for Edward Snowden.’ It is also a resounding victory for those currently plotting attacks against the homeland.”

Oh noes, the NSA surveillance program that never caught a single terrorist has been crippled, and even worse, Mitch McConnell looks like an ineffective majority leader! And so although 23 Republicans joined Democrats in voting for the bill, which passed 67-32, a lot of conservatives have a very big sad because they thought the existing unconstitutional surveillance was working just fine. Unsurprisingly, Rand Paul, continuing one of his sane 5-minute periods, voted against the whole mess because Freedom and Liberty, while Marco Rubio voted against it because it wasn't a nice tough renewal of the original Patriot Act.


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So what changes with the new law? The biggest difference is that the NSA can no longer hoover up all of the metadata -- the information about what number called what number, and for how long -- from phone calls made everywhere in the USA. Instead, phone companies will be required to hold the data, and if the NSA wants to look at it, it would need a warrant through the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance (FISA) Court -- which rubber stamps pretty much every request it gets, so no big for the spies -- and also those requests would be limited to looking for specific suspects' phone numbers and calling records. Bulk collection of data is banned by the act.

In addition, a couple of other provisions aim at more transparency for the NSA, requiring the government to publish statistics on how many Americans' phone records are accessed (but nothing more) and requiring disclosure of FISA court decisions (except if they compromise national security, which is a loophole we're sure no administration would ever abuse).

So hooray, we gots us a little extra freedom from surveillance, even though when it comes right down to it, we're all still Winston Smith and Big Brother is watching, and let's not even get started on how much more Google and Facebook know about us than the government does. But at least Mitch McConnell managed to look like a right idiot and the Republicans all hate each other yet again, so that alone is probable cause for celebration. Just say "whoopee" into your computer monitor clearly and articulately, 'kay?

[NYT / Reuters / Politico / Slate / Vox / NPR]

Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.

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