After a two day blackout of some key U.S. surveillance authorities, the Senate passed the USA Freedom Act Tuesday in a 67-32 vote which will extend the National Security Agency’s (NSA) bulk meta-data collection practices for another six months. After that period of time, individual phone companies will be charged with storing their customer’s communications records, which can then only be accessed by a court order.
The vote was a political loss for Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who originally pushed for renewal of the Patriot Act, and then tried to pass three amendments to the Freedom Act, all of which failed. The amendments, intended to strengthen the bill’s surveillance provisions, were heavily whipped against by Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT).
Before the vote, McConnell called the USA Freedom Act “a step in the wrong direction”, which “does not enhance the privacy protections of American citizens, and it surely undermines American security”.
Despite the Majority Leader’s claims that the U.S. is now less secure, the Freedom Act renews roving wiretaps, which allows law enforcement to track a suspect ad infinitum without having to obtain new surveillance orders, and “lone wolf” provisions, giving the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance (FISA) court authority to approve surveillance of international terrorists without proof of a connection between the individual and a foreign government or terrorist organization.
While many of the Patriot Act’s authority’s were in fact renewed, the American Civil Liberty Union’s legal director called passage of the Freedom Act, “a milestone”.
Sen. Rand Paul (KY), who filibustered a Senate vote to renew the Patriot Act last week, was not as enthusiastic however, as he along with fellow Republican presidential contender Marco Rubio (FL), voted ‘No’ to the bill’s passage.
Ted Cruz (R-TX) was the only 2016 presidential candidate in the Senate to vote ‘Yes’.
After the vote, the legislation was quickly brought to the President’s desk and signed into law by Mr. Obama, who issued a statement saying that the Freedom Act “will strengthen civil liberty safeguards and provide greater public confidence in these programs.”