Wins for Privacy on Capitol Hill: Asset Forfeiture & Public Surveillance Hit

The House of Representatives has been surprisingly well behaved recently. Not only are the Conservatarians pulling their weight, but it seems a general air of common sense has settled over the House.

Two surprising tides changed yesterday with immense implications for everyday Americans. Bipartisan efforts have lead to real challenges being made to encroaching federal power. An amendment to a proposed law to limit proposed increases to asset forfeiture was passed and a bipartisan committee has agreed to limit federal surveillance efforts in the coming decade.

Make America Secure and Prosperous Appropriations Act Amendment 126

Whoever tells you all Washington politicians are collectively a lost cause needs to be shown Justin Amash.

He, along with other elected republican congressmen in the Liberty Caucus of the House of Representatives, fought for and passed a legislative amendment to  to deny Attorney General Jeff Sessions his desired expansions to civil asset forfeiture.

The act in and of itself is supposed to be standard house keeping bill. Appropriation Acts fund executive departments and set their budgets but can also define the legal perimeters that the agencies operate within.

The amendment Amash so vocally fought for would reinstate Obama-era limitations restricting when law enforcement may confiscate property from citizens. When AG Jeff Sessions was appointed he rolled back federal restrictions on the practice. Since then, officers have been empowered to seize suspicious property without securing a conviction or even charging the victim with a crime at all.

This amendment closes the loophole that allows local law enforcement to confiscate any property they please so long as they refer the case to a federal agency. A loophole only recently reopened under a pro-forfeiture presidency.

FISA Amendments Act Extension and Limitations 

The FISA Amendments Act is a spy bill. It defines the bounds of American intelligence work and is set to expire at the end of the year. The current powers granted under law to the NSA, FBI, and CIA are becoming more and more troubling. The Trump White House, however, is still recommending the bill be renewed permanently without curtailment. Instead, the House will be extending the bill through 2023 with severe restrictions on the use of warrantless and mass surveillance data.

A bi-partisan committee whith primary juristiction over the bill has stated:

“Congress must reauthorize this critical national security tool but not without reforms” – Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA)

The implications are broad. From here on out the FBI will need a warrant to read intercepted electronic communications of suspects. Other changes are on the horizon and the festering problems in the NSA raked up by Edward Snowden might be the next target.

It is fitting that 16 years after 9/11 we can finally begin to do away with the most harmful laws that came from the post-attack hysteria.

Libertarians should be happy. The week is only half over and it already is the most promising one of the administration. The speed and overwhelming support for these changes is understandably surprising. Amash’s amendment passed overwhelmingly in a voice vote, for crying out loud.

It feels surreal.

How suddenly Americans wake up to abuse of power when it is wielded by a universally distrusted man.


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