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The NSA begins to shut down its phone surveillance program after Senate gridlock

The National Security Agency (NSA) has begun the process of winding down its controversial bulk collection of U.S. phone records after the Senate failed to agree on a way to temporarily extend the surveillance program, which expires at midnight June 1. The Senate, which debated into the early hours of Saturday, is now on a weeklong recess and will reconvene in a rare Sunday session on May 31.

Just hours after the Senate failed to reach a deal, the NSA began the process of shuttering its surveillance program, according to the Los Angeles Times. “The process has begun,” an administration official said Saturday.

Officials said the NSA program, which collected data such as the number dialed, duration, date, and time for most phone calls made by Americans, is complex and will require several days to shut down.

The Senate impasse also threatens other parts of the Patriot Act, including one allowing the FBI to collect business records in terrorism investigations and another allowing the FBI to listen in on every phone used by a terrorism suspect without getting separate court warrants for each one.

This news comes after the House of Representatives voted on May 13 to overwhelmingly approve a bipartisan bill to put an end to the NSA’s bulk phone data collection program. The bill was meant to curtail the NSA’s collection and access to data, calling for the agency to get court orders from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to access phone records held by telecoms and use specific search terms to limit its access to relevant records.

The conflicted Senate was not expected to have such a singular mind on the matter, so it’s no surprise that it voted 57-42 against the House bill known as the USA Freedom Act. It needed 60 votes in the Senate to pass through.

A subsequent bill to extend the program for two months also failed, as did a series of other agreements to pass even shorter extensions (including a proposed one-day extension) for the NSA’s surveillance program, according to The New York Times.

Earlier this month, the second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan ruled that the NSA’s bulk collection of phone records is illegal under federal law. This means that Section 215 of the Patriot Act cannot be used to justify the program.

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