As I expected, the Senate passed the USA Freedom Act by a 67-32 vote on Tuesday, after initially voting it down. They were forced to do so because the House was not going to budge on the matter and it was the only way they could keep Section 215 of the Patriot Act in place while accepting minor but important limitations on the government’s data mining.
The U.S. Senate passed a government surveillance reform bill Tuesday that will limit the National Security Agency’s dragnet phone surveillance program first illuminated by Edward Snowden.
“This is the most important surveillance reform bill since 1978, and its passage is an indication that Americans are no longer willing to give the intelligence agencies a blank check,” Jameel Jaffer, American Civil liberties Union deputy legal director said in a news release.
“Still, no one should mistake this bill for comprehensive reform…The passage of this bill is an indication that comprehensive reform is possible, but it is not comprehensive reform in itself.”
The Senate’s 67-32 vote to passed the USA Freedom Act without changes that previously sailed through the House of Representatives comes two days after the some controversial sections of the Patriot Act expired, forcing the NSA to begin shutting down its telephony metadata program.
The bill, which now awaits the president’s signature, will end the NSA’s current phone records collection program where telecommunications companies deliver bulk packets of data to the agency. Instead, those companies such as Verizon and AT&T, which keep call data for billing purposes, will continue to hold onto the information and respond to Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA)-approved requests.
I think Jaffer gets it exactly right. This is an important safeguard, but it doesn’t come anywhere near the real reform that is necessary. But it is the first time since 9/11 that Congress put any limitations at all on what the government can do to spy on people, which is a positive development and probably the best we could realistically hope for under the circumstances.