Senate Passes USA Freedom Act

UPDATED: 02 Jun 2015 2216 EDT

The Senate, in a 67-32 vote, passed the same bill they were unable to pass before they went on vacation, restoring some of the expired provisions of the Patriot Act. The bill now goes to President Obama who said he would sign it.

Gone is the bulk collection of phone records, replaced with a much more targeted collection and added are changes to the super secret FISA court.


President Obama has already signed the bill into law, just a few hours after the Senate passed it (see CNN article).

The fight over the bill came between the House Republicans who wanted to reign in the NSA and the Senate Republicans who wanted to actually give the NSA even more power.   Mitch McConnell, who led the fight in the Senate for more NSA powers wound up being the big loser in this case.  He got nothing that he fought for, had the NSA waste needless money winding down and starting back up their data collection operations and got the same bill approved that was handed to him weeks ago.

What does the USA Freedom Act provide?

First, it provides a six month transition period where business runs as usual – just like before Section 215 expired.  Sort of.

The NSA still needs to go back to the FISA court and ask permission to start collecting data again.  This would be a slam dunk if it were not for the decision from the Second Circuit Appeals court (see here) that ruled that what the NSA was doing did not comply with what Section 215 said – which is what some people have been saying since the fact that the NSA was doing this was revealed.  The decision of the appeals court is not binding on the FISA court, but if the NSA does start up the data collection again, the plaintiffs in that decision could ask the second circuit for a stay or they could go to the guys in the black robes in DC – the Supremes – and no, I don’t mean the musical group.

Ultimately, what the USA Freedom Act requires is that the NSA must ask the FISA court for a targeted warrant which will allow them to get the data they want from the phone companies.  This is dependent on whether or not the phone companies can show, in the next six months, that they can collect, store and produce the data requested by the NSA.  Otherwise, things stay as is.

Analysis of the details of the USA Freedom Act will no doubt take days or weeks, but one provision is clear – that the NSA has to request data for a specific person, organization or device and only if they convince the FISA court that the person is associated with a foreign power or terrorist group (see here).

The bill will also allow tech companies to talk more about how much data they are turning over, require the NSA to talk more about how much data they are collecting, allow civil liberty advocates to lobby the FISA court and require major decisions of the court to be declassified.







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