'Let the Patriot Act die': House lawmakers urged to vote down flawed spy bill

'Let the Patriot Act die': House lawmakers urged to vote down flawed spy bill
Image via / CNN.

Progressive privacy advocates and civil libertarians on Wednesday called on constituents to urgently call their representative in the U.S. House and demand they vote against a surveillance bill that would allow the Justice Department and FBI to spy on the internet browser histories of people living in the United States—including citizens and undocumented immigrants.

After an amendment designed to strengthen the bill was dropped, opponents said it was vital for the bill—a version of which passed the U.S. Senate by a single vote last week—to be defeated outright. With the vote expected as early as Wednesday night, groups like Fight for the Future and Demand Progress—as well as other opponents—warned there was only a little time left.

Defeating the bill, said Evan Greer, policy director for Fight for the Future, "will give us more time to keep fighting and organizing. And it will send a strong message to leadership of both parties that the public is fed up with having our tax dollars wasted on creepy surveillance programs that don't make anyone safer. CALL YOUR REPS RIGHT NOW."

Sean Vitka, senior policy counsel with the advocacy group Demand Progress, condemned leaders in the House for pushing "a bill that fails to protect internet activity with a warrant" and called for all members from both major parties to vote "No."

"It would be unconscionable for the Democratic House to pass any PATRIOT Act reauthorization without critical privacy reforms that would pass the Senate," said Vitka. "It is on Congress, and in particular House Democrats, to protect people from [Attorney General] Bill Barr's FBI."

Defending the passage of the bill on the House floor during Wednesday's debate, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said the legislation was an "American bill" that he claimed would "keep the country safe."

But despite such tired arguments that civil liberties must be sacrificed to national security and the so-called "safety" of the nation, Fight for the Future said—leapfrogging over the legislative gymnastics that led up to Wednesday's vote (see here)—that the best thing for Congress to ultimately do is repeal the post-9/11 Patriot Act once and for all:

Progressive critics warned that Democrats like Hoyer were letting Trump and Republicans come off as righteous heroes by standing as the chief opponents—even if for the wrong or cynical reasons—for what is a deeply flawed bill.

As Common Dreams reported earlier, House Intelligence Committee Chair Rep. Adam Schiff was a target of specific ire for his role in sabotaging the amendment which sought to strengthen the bill's privacy protections and judicial oversight.

"House Democrats had an opportunity to enact meaningful protections that would have kept people safe," said Greer. "Instead they let Rep. Adam Schiff throw it all away at the last minute."

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