Last week, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of Americans’ telephone data is illegal under the Patriot Act. Wednesday, Congress voted to end the program entirely.
The USA Freedom Act passed easily—338 yeas to 88 nays. The bill rolls back what’s known as Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which the NSA used to collect the “metadata” of American citizens, meaning the phone numbers they called, the length of each call, and other data that can be used to identify people. The bill is supported by most civil liberty groups, including the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
Wednesday’s passage was expected, but the Senate is expected to be a harder sell, because Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) wants to reauthorize the Patriot Act, portions of which expire on June 1. The Senate is expected to pick up the bill over the next couple weeks and vote on it May 22.
If the Senate does indeed reauthorize the Patriot Act, something’s gotta give. In the court decision from last week, Judge Gerald Lynch wrote that Congress needs to do something to alter Section 215 of the Patriot Act.
“We deem it prudent to pause to allow an opportunity for debate in Congress that may (or may not) profoundly alter the legal landscape,” Lynch wrote. “If Congress fails to reauthorize § 215 itself, or reenacts § 215 without expanding it to authorize the telephone metadata program, there will be no need for prospective relief, since the program will end, and once again there will be time to address what if any relief is required in terms of the data already acquired by the government.”
The House’s version of the USA Freedom Act ends Section 215 mass surveillance: The question now is whether the Senate will follow suit but who knows if they will!