Starting at 5 p.m. ET on June 1, the bulk collection of American phone records by the National Security Agency will no longer be legally permitted, Spencer Ackerman of the Guardian reports.
That would mark the first time since October 2001 that US phone calls weren’t collected en masse from America’s three largest telecommunications providers.
The Obama administration did not ask the FISA court, a secret court overseeing surveillance issues, for another 90-day extension of the order needed to continue the collection of domestic phone records.
“We did not file an application for reauthorization,” an official from the Obama administration told the Guardian on Saturday morning.
While the president has not asked to extend the program, Senate Republicans, led by Mitch McConnell, will reportedly continue to work to keep the program — and other elements of the Patriot Act — intact.
The USA Freedom Act, which would ban bulk collection of data by the NSA but renew an expiring provision permitting the FBI to access business records and other American communications metadata, was approved by the House of Representatives earlier this week. The act, however, was defeated in the Senate on Saturday morning.
“This is a high-threat period,” McConnell (R-Kent.) said after the Senate rejected the legislation but did not agree on an extension after June 1.
McConnell had attempted to get the Senate to pass a temporary extension of Section 215 of the Patriot Act. The section, known as the business-records provision, gave intelligence agencies authorization to seek communications data if “the records are relevant to an ongoing foreign intelligence investigation.”
An appeals court ruled earlier this month that most of the NSA’s surveillance and collections efforts were not permitted by Section 215. The court directly attributed revelations about the collection programs and its defeat in court to Edward Snowden, who released of hundreds of thousands of documents he gathered while working for a government contractor in 2012 and 2013.
McConnell, whose bill would continue all phone-records collection by the FBI and NSA, and the rest of the Senate will meet again on May 31. McConnell’s measure has support from members of the intelligence community.
The Guardian that the GOP leader will have to overcome the appeals court’s ruling, public dissatisfaction with government surveillance, and the procedural defeat of the surveillance programs in Congress in order to pass his bill.
“The Senate is in gridlock, but the tides are shifting,” said Michael W. Macleod-Ball, acting director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Washington legislative office, told The New York Times.
“For the first time, a majority of senators took a stand against simply rubber-stamping provisions of the Patriot Act that have been used to spy on Americans,” he continued. “It’s disappointing that the Senate couldn’t coalesce around far-reaching reform, but in its absence the Senate should simply let the expiring provisions sunset.”
The Times notes that “the once-secret program, which began in October 2001, it has never been the difference maker in thwarting any terrorist attack, according to testimony and government reports.“
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