June 3, 2015
Buenos Aires, Argentina
My general rule of thumb when it comes to legislation is that the more high-sounding the name, the more insidious the law.
Exhibit A: the just-passed USA FREEDOM Act.
"Freedom". It sounds great.
So great, in fact, that they stuck it in the title and built an absurd acronym around it-- the real name of the law is "Uniting and Strengthening America by Fulfilling Rights and Ensuring Effective Discipline Over Monitoring Act of 2015".
And without fail, the media has bought in to the myth, praising the government for heralding in a new era of liberty with headlines like "Congress Reins In NSA’s Spying Powers" and "NSA phone program doomed as Senate passes USA Freedom Act".
Unfortunately this is simply not the case. And shame on the mainstream media for making such thinly-researched, fallacious assertions.
If anyone had actually taken the time to read the legislation, they'd see that most of the 'concessions' made by the government are entirely hollow.
Secret FISA courts still exist. Lone wolf surveillance authority and roving wiretaps still exist. They can still grab oodles of other data like medical and business records.
And the US Attorney General has even been awarded new 'emergency powers' to use in his/her sole discretion... just in case the secret courts might be uncooperative.
The big victory being cheered by the media pertains to the collection of phone records. This one is actually hilarious.
The USA FREEDOM Act prevents the government from seizing and storing 'call detail records', the so-called meta-data information like your phone number, the other caller's phone number, the length of the call, etc.
But section 107(k)(3)(B) of the new law specifically states that 'call detail records' do NOT include the *actual content* of the call itself. Or your name. Address. Financial data. Cell-site location. Etc.
So basically they can't archive your phone number. But everything else is fair game. Congratulations on your freedom.
Lawmakers also managed to sprinkle all sorts of other worthless provisions into the USA FREEDOM Act.
For example, the Inspector General (IG) of the United States is required to issue a report discussing what civil liberty violations may have occurred over the last few years.
Great. Except that IG reports are just that-- reports. They have no teeth. And Congress can do with this one precisely what they do with every other IG report that gets issued: nothing.
(Seriously, when was the last time you heard any ruckus about an IG report? Probably never.)
They also stated that a panel of 'advocates' (whoever they may be) would attend and observe any secret FISA court hearing in which profound legal issues might be at stake.
Again, sounds great. Except that, like the IG report, a panel of advocates has no teeth... no power to stop the court or spy agencies.
Bottom line, these concessions may look good on paper, but they don't amount to any real concession.
This is a classic negotiation tactic. When working out a contentious deal, the stronger side will invariably offer some irrelevant concession that has no material impact on what they want.
We did this several months ago for our Chilean agriculture fund, pushing through a substantial price reduction on a 2,000 acre property by 'conceding' to let the seller stay in the farm house for a few months.
He felt like he got something, but for us the concession was pointless and ceremonial.
The same thing happened here. And the American people just got played.
The government has spent the last 14 years turning up the heat on the boiling frog. They increased the temperature by 100 degrees over that time... and have now turned it down 1 degree.
Yet people are treating this like it's some sort of victory.
It's not. And this is a sad reflection of how low people's expectations have become of their own government and liberty.
It's a mistake to rely on a government to solve the problems that they themselves created.
It's a mistake to expect bureaucrats to voluntarily give up the power that they have awarded themselves... and have spent years abusing.
It's a mistake to wait for politicians to give you back the freedom that they've taken away.
They don't give a damn about your freedom. And they're certainly not going to give it to you.
But it still exists. It's out there for anyone who cares enough to do something about it.
When I was in the military everyone used to say 'freedom isn't free'. And this is totally true.
Freedom starts with the individual. No one is going to give it to you. Becoming free means you have to put forth just a little bit of effort to take some common sense baby steps.
Let's discuss some of these tomorrow.