The Senate Tuesday in a 67-32 vote approved the USA Freedom Act, legislation that reforms bulk metadata collection established in the Patriot Act. The bill, which was already passed overwhelmingly and in a bipartisan fashion in the Republican-controlled House, now goes to President Obama’s desk for his signature.
Lawmakers missed a key deadline last weekend after Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kty., ran the clock out in protest using procedural measures. After the Senate failed to pass the status quo continuation bill Sunday night, the controversial surveillance programs were suspened, most notably the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of Americans’ phone records.
The passage of the bill marks what Sen. Paul called a victory for liberty and the Fourth Amendment, but leadership did everything they could to keep it from passing.
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a fellow Republican and Kentuckian, offered several amendments. If any of them had passed in a vote, the bill again would’ve had to return to the House. But GOP leaders in the House warned that changes would sink the bill, period, resulting in an end to these programs, altogether.
Here are several reforms that the bill has put in place:
- Act allows the NSA to resume metadata collection programs, but only for a transition period of six months. Afterward, the legislation would no longer permit the NSA to gobble up Americans’ records in bulk. Instead, the NSA will have to leave the records with phone companies and the bill requires the government to seek and obtain a warrant.
- Continue other post-9/11 surveillance provisions that had also lapsed after the Senate failed to pass the Patriot Act Sunday night, including the FBI’s authority to gather business records during terrorism and espionage investigations. The bill also makes it easier for the FBI to eavesdrop on suspects who frequently discard cellphones to avoid surveillance.
- Creates an independent panel to provide the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court with guidance on privacy and civil liberties matters.
- Increase transparency involving the decisions handed down by the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.
Worth noting, prior to Paul’s filibuster-like procedural move, the Justice Department Inspector General released a report that admitted they had never foiled a major terror attack using the powers of bulk metadata collection permitted in the USA Patriot Act. The IG also openly supported reforms to the status quo.
“The agents we interviewed did not identify any major case developments that resulted from use of the records obtained in response to Section 215 orders,” the inspector general found. “While the expanded scope of these requests can be important uses of Section 215 authority, we believe these expanded uses require continued significant oversight.”
However, Sen. Paul and Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., worry the USA Freedom Act doesn’t go far enough. They proposed nine amendments to further reform and clarify the USA Freedom Act (Read them here).
Nonetheless, the legislation will achieve his ultimate goal — the end to the NSA bulk collection.
[brid video=”9332″ player=”1929″ title=”Sen. Rand Paul Appears on Fox Hannity June 1 2015″]