It will take far more than Washington theater and paper laws to stop the data collection juggernaut that is the NSA.
Numerous media outlets keep reporting that with the expiry of the Patriot Act Sunday night, the NSA will magically stop collecting data on every single American citizen.
Unfortunately, this is far from the case.
The official line, according to several senior officials, is that the hours leading up to midnight will see a jump in activity as engineers take down servers, monitoring software and hardware from the main optic cables of telephone data traffic.
"We're in uncharted waters. We have not had to confront addressing the terrorist threat without these authorities. And it's going to be fraught with unnecessary risk," said one official, as quoted by the LA Times.
Simply put, without a massive inquiry in which NSA criminals like James Clapper and Kieth Alexander are held to account for lying under oath and running a spy network that is, literally, above the law, nothing will change.
The NSA gameplans for this scenario and will simply shuffle the cards around a little bit until the heat dies down. They'll call on their friends in Canada, the UK, Germany and Australia to do whatever dirty work isn't allows by Congress and then re-feed all the data back into their system. Or should they not be permitted to store certain pieces of data they will just shift the burden of holding data to the phone companies, who will then allow the NSA to access it.
There's plenty of similarly clever little tricks the agency will employ to feign compliance with the law while in reality business will continue as usual.
The dossiers they maintain on every single U.S. citizen will continue to exist, as will the logging of every single bit of data that crosses a U.S. telecommunications network.
The tens of billions of dollars spent on the agency's computer systems isn't going to be stopped by something as trivial as the law. The NSA operates the world's largest and most powerful computer network for one reason: spying on everyone, everywhere.
This isn't going to stop tonight and won't any time soon.
In short, the NSA has become much too powerful and is too heavily invested for things to change unless there is a sweeping overhaul. Such an overhaul would probably necessitate the end of the agency in order to cleanse the deep rot.