Privacy activists staged ‘sunset vigils’ as a death watch for Patriot Act spying

Privacy advocates enjoyed a little wordplay and hope Thursday night as they celebrated the likely expiration of key provisions of the controversial USA Patriot Act.

They called it a “sunset vigil,” both because it was held at sunset and because Section 215 of the Patriot Act—along with two less prominent provisions—will sunset, or expire, at midnight on June 1, unless the Senate passes a bill that the House already passed before leaving town.

Section 215 is most famous as the authority that the National Security Agency (NSA) has used to collect bulk records of Americans’ phone calls. The bulk-records collection program was the first piece of the U.S. surveillance state exposed by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden’s cache of leaked documents.

Whether Section 215 is renewed may end up being a moot point, as a federal appeals court ruled earlier this month that the bulk-records collection program was illegal. Anticipating that either Section 215 will sunset or a reform bill will ban the bulk collection, the Justice Department instructed the NSA to begin winding down the program on Friday.

The sunset vigils, organized by Internet-freedom groups like Fight For the Future and Free Press, appeared outside senators’ offices in numerous cities, including Boston, Mass.; Chicago, Ill.; Los Angeles, Calif.; Minneapolis, Minn; New York, N.Y.; and Washington, D.C.

“The crowds that gathered at sunset today are only the beginning,” FFTF campaign director Evan Greer said in a press release. “It’s time we come together and let the sun go down on this dark age of government surveillance.”

Photo via Imgur/vanFFTF

Kevin Collier

Kevin Collier

A former senior politics reporter for the Daily Dot, Kevin Collier focuses on privacy, cybersecurity, and issues of importance to the open internet. Since leaving the Daily Dot in March 2016, he has served as a reporter for Vocativ and a cybersecurity correspondent for BuzzFeed.