Grading City Hall: How is L.A.'s city controller doing so far?

Opinion L.A.

Opinion Opinion L.A.

Edward Snowden: the unacknowledged author of an NSA reform bill

Edward Snowden's name should be on a bill that would protect Americans' privacy
Congress moves to end the bulk collection of phone records
Thank Edward Snowden for a bill that would protect phone privacy

It’s called the USA Freedom Act, but a more fitting name might be Edward’s Law — as in Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor charged with violating the Espionage Act. I’m referring to a bill cleared by the House Intelligence Committee that would end the NSA’s bulk collection of telephone metadata: information about the source, destination and duration of calls.

The bill, identical to a measure approved by the Judiciary Committee, addresses what was probably Snowden’s most sensational revelation: that the government was indiscriminately collecting the phone records of vast numbers of Americans under an expansive interpretation of the Patriot Act. The database could then be “queried” or searched for matches when investigators came into possession of a phone number thought to be related to foreign terrorism.

When the program was first revealed, President Obama essentially told the nation to relax. “Nobody is listening to your telephone calls,” he said last summer. “That’s not what this program’s about.” Moreover, the number of queries was apparently quite small, with no evidence that the program was being abused to target political dissenters.

Still, Americans understandably were creeped out by the fact that the government had a repository of information that could reveal much about phone customers’ daily lives. Eventually, Obama embraced the idea that the phone metadata should no longer be stored by the government. He also agreed that, except in emergencies, queries should take place only with a court order.

Those reforms would be codified by the USA Freedom Act. The bill isn’t perfect, and it was weakened somewhat to ensure passage. For example, it doesn’t reform “backdoor” collection of information about Americans from the surveillance of the communications of foreigners living abroad.

Still, if enacted by both houses of Congress, it would represent a significant repudiation of a program that arguably never would have been approved if it had been put to a vote. Whatever you think of Snowden — hero, traitor, defector, megalomaniac — he was the real author of this bill.

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times
Related Content
  • Baby on board? Go Navy!

    Baby on board? Go Navy!

    Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus announced in May that he was planning to increase paid maternity leave for sailors from six to 12 weeks. It was one of a number of changes designed to make his branch of the armed forces more attractive to women — and to keep them once they signed up.

  • L.A. to offer a new way forward for homeless

    L.A. to offer a new way forward for homeless

    Most homeless people who live on the streets of Los Angeles have at one time or another been cited by police for various "quality of life" violations: public urination, sleeping on a sidewalk, jaywalking or other transgressions. These are relatively minor infractions of the law, but they can have...

  • Are there really only two options on Iran?

    Are there really only two options on Iran?

    Ever since negotiators finished work on a nuclear agreement with Iran, President Obama and his aides have been fending off critics with a recurring refrain: What's the alternative?

  • California is falling apart; here's why

    California is falling apart; here's why

    On July 19 the collapse of a "functionally obsolete" bridge shut down nearly 50 miles of Interstate 10. What was the problem? Too much rain, too little infrastructure. Infrastructure? Don't stop reading: Your life, literally, depends on infrastructure. Steven P. Erie, a political science professor...

  • A study of California prosecutors finds a lack of diversity

    A study of California prosecutors finds a lack of diversity

    In one police killing after another over the last year, as the nation has waited to find out if charges would be filed against officers, we've been reminded that prosecutors are in many ways the most powerful officials in the American criminal justice system.

  • How to kill the summer job

    How to kill the summer job

    I had a lot of summer jobs. I was a foot messenger in New York for a couple of summers. I worked as a receptionist and mail room flunky. Before my junior year of high school, I briefly sold ice cream snacks — sort of yuppie bonbons — on the street for a company called Love Bites. The uniform was...