Finally, a situation where the Senate disagreeing on everything actually helps the American public for once.
Over the weekend, a controversial amendment in the PATRIOT Act known as Section 215 was allowed to lapse past its due date for renewal on June 1st. This means that at least for the next couple days, the NSA will have lost its legal right to spy on the telephone conversations of domestic citizens.
The renewal was stalled by the proposal of a new bill, dubbed the USA Freedom Act, which seeks to place increased limitations on the ruling guidelines for surveillance originally established in the Patriot Act. It also fundamentally alters the way certain permissions are doled out to the NSA by the legislative branch of our government.
In its current form, the USA Freedom Act would put a slew of restrictions on specific tenets of the NSA’s bulk phone record collection operations, and hand much of that responsibility over to the cellphone carriers such as Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile instead. The bill is still imperfect however, as while the amount of regulations on the NSA’s power to spy on cellphones would be increased, many of the other programs that Edward Snowden exposed in his leaks would also be renewed without edits at the same time.
The bill does little (if anything) to curb the permissions that the NSA’s secret FISA courts used to establish surveillance over the internet, such as MUSCULAR, PRISM, and XKeyscore. For the time being, our computers are will remain just as vulnerable as they were when the PATRIOT Act first went into effect.
The Republican Senator from Kentucky, Rand Paul, was the one to block the motion to put the passage of the USA Freedom Act up to a vote, which means that the NSA isn’t allowed to make a move until told otherwise. The Act has had its ups and downs since first being proposed in the House of Representatives last October, and has garnered both praise and disdain from both sides of the aisle over the many revisions and changes we’ve seen added and subtracted since then.