The Patriot Act’s broadest surveillance powers have expired, causing U.S. authorities to lose the influence to access Americans’ phone records.
The U.S. Congress has allowed the elapse of surveillance laws that were instigated in response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks thanks to a group of cross-party senators led by U.S. presidential candidate Rand Paul, who rallied against Washington’s request to extend provisions of the U.S. Patriot Act which was due to expire on May 31.
Vermont socialist Bernie Sanders and Kentucky libertarian Rand Paul may not have much in common, but they have agreed on something essential, namely that the U.S. National Security Agency’s surveillance program has gone too far. Sanders told Katie Couric for Yahoo News that, “in many respects,” he agrees with the Republican presidential candidate when it comes to opposing the U.S. government’s collection of people’s phone records. Although he acknowledged that the government should “go after” suspected terrorists, he also opined that “99.99 per cent of the people whose records are being collected have nothing to do with terrorism.” Plus, he agreed that there are certain parts of the Patriot Act which need to be repealed because, as Paul said, the NSA might be “getting into people’s emails, getting into people’s websites.”
While the United States is waking up, Australia remains stuck with the controversial metadata law which requires its internet and mobile phone providers to store client data for a couple of years. As the Australian Financial Review’s John Kehoe said, this is “exactly the passionate debate that was largely missing” when data retention laws were instituted. Although Greens Party senator Scott Ludlam voted against the bill because he described it as “a form of mass surveillance,” Attorney-General George Brandis and Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull said in a joint statement that, through this bill, the parliament has ensured that Australia’s security and law enforcement agencies will “continue to have access to the information they need to do their jobs.”
Last year, Mr Brandis said in a speech in Washington that the more intelligence he reads, the more conservative he becomes, even though he claims he has “a bred-in-the-bone respect for due process and civil liberties.” The United States has Rand Paul to protect its best interests, while Australia has Liberal Democrat Senator David Leyonhjelm, who warned that new powers will allow the government to spy on its citizens and who insisted that collection of metadata is wrong both in principle and in practice.
One notable difference between Americans and Australians is that the former have a deep suspicion of government, while the latter seem to have “a far greater sense of entitlement from, and trust in, government,” Kehoe noted. Another distinction between the two peoples is that Americans arefired up about surveillance programs since whistleblower Edward Snowden leaked revelations about invasive U.S. government spying and collection of people’s personal information.
When the metadata law was passed in Australia, it was guaranteed that the rules do not extend to third-party email and social media platforms such as Facebook, Skype, Hotmail or Gmail, but experience shows that one can never be sure. As senator Ludlam said, even though surveillance should be “targeted, proportionate and levelled” at national security threats, organised crime and serious criminals, this bill [metadata law] “entrenches the opposite.”