This week the American Congress was successful in overseeing the expiration of significant sections of the Patriot Act of 2001.
Fuelled mainly by the events of September 11th 2001, the American Congress allowed President George. W. Bush to sign the Patriot Act in October of the same year. The aim of which was to intercept and obstruct acts of terrorism directed against the USA. However, it was not until the whistleblower, Edward Snowdon, revealed that the National Security Agency (NSA) was involved in phone surveillance and the storing of the data of many American citizens in 2013 that people knew of the measures the NSA were going to under the protection of the Patriot Act.
Due to a large degree of opposition in Congress led most notably by Rand Paul, the next potential Republican representative in the 2016 elections, significant parts of the Patriot Act have expired as of June 1st 2015. Fears over international security had been raised during the intermediate time between the expiration of the Patriot Act and the Freedom Act. However, the Freedom Act officially passed into American law on June 2nd, putting an end to the concerns.
The objections raised by Rand Paul were based on the dishonesty and unconstitutional nature of the spying that was carried out as a result of the Patriot Act. Paul was heavily critical of the way the NSA conducted themselves after the Snowdon incident, pointing out that even though the director of the Intelligence Agency, had lied under oath about the collection of phone records of American Citizens, he still held onto his position until 2014.
A number of significant changes have been made as a result of the passing of the Freedom Act by Congress. Prior to the changes, the NSA was able to access any digital information, without wilful consent of the company, that any phone or internet user may have transmitted back to their phone or internet provider. The Freedom Act makes it such that not only must the NSA have the permission of the provider, they must also take the case for a court hearing before being allowed access to the information. This means that evidence must be provided that the persons in question are a threat to national security. Another significant point is that this is the first time in 30 years legislation has been passed to inhibit spying in the USA. Not only that, but it was passed by an overwhelming majority in Congress.
The ethical implications of this are pertinent; while Obama and the American Congress are making moves to rebuild a trust between the American citizens and the government, Teresa May, supported by David Cameron, announced recently that a ‘Snoopers Charter’ is looking to be pushed through which will mean less restrictions on the extent of spying and monitoring.
At this point it is important to consider whether the rights to privacy of the individual are being infringed upon. Even with a heightened terrorist threat, largely caused by several UK nationals looking to join the ranks of Islamic State, this legislation does seem quite Orwellian. How far will we let the government pry into our private lives for the sake of national security?