Senate leaders failed to get the 60 votes needed to advance The USA Freedom Act - which would have limited the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of phone records - and as Bloomberg reports, it's unlikely a new version can be drafted for another vote before the congressional term expires this year. The 58-42 vote to move the measure forward came mostly along party lines as Senator Saxby Chambliss - the top Republican on the intelligence committee - rambling that the bill "eliminates tools critical to the intelligence community’s ability to prevent terrorist attacks, and its adoption would greatly degrade our ability to fight domestic terrorism in particular." In other words - it's for own good, now shut up!
Bloomberg reports that The Senate blocked legislation that would have limited the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of phone records, more than year after Edward Snowden exposed the extent of U.S. government surveillance programs.
Senate leaders failed to get the 60 votes needed to advance the bill today. It’s unlikely a new version can be drafted for another vote before the congressional term expires this year.
The 58-42 vote to move the measure forward came mostly along party lines.
Wired.com explains what the bill would have achieved...
The bill would have put an end to the government’s controversial bulk collection of phone records from U.S. telecoms—a program first uncovered by USA Today in 2006 but re-exposed in 2013 in leaks by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. The bill would instead have kept records in the hands of telecoms and forced the NSA to obtain court orders from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to gain access to them. It would also have required the agency to use specific search terms to narrow its access to only relevant records.
Additionally, the bill would have allowed service providers more transparency in disclosing to the public the number and types of requests they receive from the government for customer data. The government in turn would have had to be more transparent about the number of Americans caught up in its data searches. The NSA has said in the past that it has no idea how many Americans are caught up in national security collection efforts that target foreign suspects.
Remember - blocking the bill was for your own good!!
“The USA Freedom Act eliminates tools critical to the intelligence community’s ability to prevent terrorist attacks, and its adoption would greatly degrade our ability to fight domestic terrorism in particular,” Senator Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, the top Republican on the intelligence committee, said by e-mail.
Former NSA and CIA Director Gen. Michael Hayden and former U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey have called it the kind of “NSA Reform That Only ISIS Could Love,” referring to the militant group known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria that has terrorized parts of the Middle East.
There is still hope for privacy...
The bulk-records collection program still faces problems next summer when Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act are scheduled to expire. The government has used Section 215 to authorize collection of the records and reformers in the Senate and House have vowed to fight re-authorization of this and other sections of the Act next year and let them expire.
* * *
Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) today released the following statement on the USA FREEDOM Act after the Senate failed to advance the bill:
“I supported the USA FREEDOM Act because it may have been be the best opportunity to reform the metadata collection program while maintaining the government’s ability to use this tool to prevent terrorist attacks at home and abroad.
“Key reforms in the bill would have made the program more transparent and protected privacy, most notably the requirement that a FISA Court order must be secured before conducting targeted queries of telephone metadata being held by phone companies. I also strongly supported measures to allow private companies to more fully report the number of times they receive government requests for information, which these companies believe is an important transparency measure.
“I had some concerns about the bill, notably the length of time telecom companies would retain data and ensuring that a FISA Court advocate could not unreasonably delay action by the court. But I was confident those issues would have been resolved through discussions with industry and through the amendment process. I look forward to continuing to work on this issue.”
* * *