On a vote of 67 to 32 today, the Senate passed the USA FREEDOM Act. The bill, which will now race to President Barack Obama’s desk, marks the first time Congress has moved to reform the National Security Agency (NSA’s) surveillance programs since Edward Snowden’s revelations.
The bill received overwhelming support in the House, but in the Senate, it sparked a contentious weeks-long debate that divided the Republican party. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s attempts to block the reform bill failed and resulted in a number of clauses in the Patriot Act expiring. Among the expiring programs was the bulk metadata collection program, perhaps the most contentious of those revealed by Edward Snowden.
For a more detailed look into the contents of the USA FREEDOM Act, head here. The bill will force telephone companies to hold on to Americans’ phone records for 18 months rather than government agencies. Intelligence officials will acquire the records by requesting permission from a FISA court.
That the law passed was not surprising. The bill, and its place among the larger debate concerning the United States’ governments surveillance efforts, especially as they relate to American citizens, split political parties. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell proposed a ‘clean’ reauthorization of the Patriot Act for a half decade. Others in the majority railed against reauthorization itself.
In addition to failing to pass a clean reauthorization, McConnell’s push to amend the FREEDOM Act fell short. He allowed votes on three amendments that would significantly weaken the bill’s provisions. Senate Democrats and House Republicans adamantly opposed any amendments that would prolong the lapse of the bulk metadata program.
Expect a deluge of reaction from every person and entity with even half a political pulse.
Today’s vote in the Senate is the most significant action Congress has taken to curtail the nation’s intelligence apparatus since the attacks of September 11. In the rush to avoid a prolonged lapse of the nation’s bulk metadata collection program, many have criticized the FREEDOM Act as a hurried attempt. But really it’s the first step toward reforming the rushed action Congress took in its passage of the Patriot Act almost 14 years ago.