For over a decade, civil libertarians have been fighting government mass surveillance of innocent Americans over the Internet. We’ve just lost an important battle. On January 18, President Trump signed the renewal of Section 702, domestic mass surveillance became effectively a permanent part of US law.
Section 702 has already been on the books for 10 years. 10 years of the opponents of this legislation failing to vote hard enough to repeal it. But I’m sure this is the year where all that will change. This is the year where the plebeians will say that they’ve had enough, flood their representatives’ offices with letters and phone calls, and rush to the polling places to vote out everybody who worked to renew this legislation.
The thing Section 702 illustrates more than anything else is the relationship between bad laws and time. Originally the surveillance powers granted by Section 702 were called illegal by its opponents. Then those powers downgraded to merely being abusive as people started becoming more comfortable with their existence. Now the powers are little more than background noise. While a handful of people still make a fuss every time Section 702 comes up for renewal, most people don’t care because the law has been on the books for a decade and hasn’t impacted their lives in any noticeable way.
Time is the ally of legislation. If a law, regardless of how abusive it may be, can be kept on the books long enough for it to become background noise to the masses, it can exist forever. And it doesn’t take long for a law to become background noise. A few months is usually enough for a controversial law to fall out of the news cycle and by extend the minds’ of the masses. Once that has happened, building up enough momentum to get the law repealed is all but impossible.