Given the partisan gridlock in Washington these days, it’s unusual to see members of Congress agree on anything, even a motion to adjourn. But this week Republicans and Democrats not only came together on a piece of legislation, they passed a historic bill to limit the domestic spying powers of the National Security Administration.
True, it’s not perfect. What legislation is? But the USA Freedom Act, signed immediately into law by President Obama, does accomplish two main goals: clipping the wings of NSA and ripping the mask off the secret national security court.
Of course, reforming NSA is not as far as Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) and civil libertarians wanted to go. They advocated shutting down NSA’s massive phone-snooping program altogether, which would have been the right thing to do, but which turned out to be a bridge too far for most members of Congress.
Consider. For the first time in a long time, Congress actually passed a bipartisan bill: with 338 votes in the House and 67 votes in the Senate. For the first time in 14 years, the United States scaled back the unlimited authority for fighting terrorism at home and abroad granted the Bush administration by a panicky Congress in the wake of September 11. And maybe for the first time ever, Congress actually voted to limit the powers of intelligence agencies to spy on American citizens.
How times have changed. In 2001, only one senator, Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, voted against the Patriot Act. This week, 405 out of 535 members of Congress said that the Patriot Act had gone too far.
It was almost exactly two years to the day that Snowden first told the world what NSA was up to. In light of his positive contribution to the national debate over civil liberties, it’s time for the Obama administration to stop treating Edward Snowden like a criminal, and welcome him home as the whistleblower he is.
They should rename the USA Freedom Act — the Edward Snowden Freedom Act. It wouldn’t have happened without him.