Back in mid November, the US Senate failed to reach the number of votes needed to bring the USA Freedom Act to cloture, and move it to the floor for a vote. If passed, the act in theory would have put limitations on the bulk phone metadata collection performed by the NSA (in general, metadata includes information like phone number/ email address, time of call/email, duration of call, phone number/email of individual receiving the call). The law would have instead mandated that data be retained solely by the telecom companies that facilitate such information, with the NSA only able to access it with specific FISC approval. Though the bill had been viewed as being a step in the right direction by privacy groups like the ACLU, it's language was seen as problematic by NSA whistle blowers Bill Binney and Thomas Drake, who along with other civil liberties advocates like Daniel Ellsberg of the Pentagon Papers, opposed it's passage. In their opposition, they pointed out that the bill would have extended the Patriot Act for another two and a half years, and given corporations total immunity for complying with government requests for data, no matter how egregious the requests might be. They also pointed to apparent loopholes in the bill, which use legal language to create a kind of backdoor that completely negates apparent surveillance reform.
Going even further than Ellsberg and company, who in spite of opposition to the bill put forth their own suggestions for legislative reform, Glenn Greenwald questioned the ability for the US government to have any effect on reigning in the rogue NSA. Stating that the US government is "designed at its core to prevent real reform, he went on to say
"This Congress is not going to enact anything resembling fundamental limits on the NSA’s powers of mass surveillance. Even if it somehow did, this White House would never sign it. Even if all that miraculously happened, the fact that the U.S. intelligence community and National Security State operates with no limits and no oversight means they’d easily co-opt the entire reform process. That’s what happened after the eavesdropping scandals of the mid-1970s led to the establishment of congressional intelligence committees and a special FISA “oversight” court—the committees were instantly captured by putting in charge supreme servants of the intelligence community like Senators Dianne Feinstein and Chambliss, and Congressmen Mike Rogers and “Dutch” Ruppersberger, while the court quickly became a rubber stamp with subservient judges who operate in total secrecy.
The question of the efficacy of oversight really needs to be grappled with. Obama has suggested that the conversation around NSA surveillance is a needed one, yet he has maintained a desire to criminally prosecute whistle blower Edward Snowden, who was the eighth person charged under the espionage act by the current administration. How can Obama proclaim a desire for genuine reform when he is criminally pursuing the catalyzing source of this reform? And all of this reform, involving oversight and new regulations, will still be handled primarily in secret. Can we trust a government to be faithful to the laws it implements when it has been shown to hide its own illegal actions from scrutiny? Or when it refuses to prosecute its director of National Intelligence, who, while under oath, publicly perjured himself before congress in the following exchange?
Senator Ron Wyden: Does the N.S.A. collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?
Clapper: No, sir. Not wittingly.