Broad NSA surveillance powers, granted in 2006, expired on midnight

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SurveillanceBroad NSA surveillance powers, granted in 2006, expired on midnight

Published 1 June 2015

The NSA’s broad domestic surveillance authority, granted to the agency when the Patriot Act was first reauthorized in 2006, expired on midnight after the Senate failed to extend Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which governs surveillance, or approve the House’s USA Freedom Act, which modified Section 215. The Senate did vote, 77-17, to take up the House bill on Tuesday. The failure of the Senate to do extend or modify the NSA’s surveillance power was the result of the unyielding position of Senator Rand Paul (R-Kentucky), and also the result of a miscalculation by Senator Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky), the majority leader, who believed that the prospect of the expiration of Section 215 would lead opponent of the surveillance programs, supporters of the current program, and supporters of the House’s USA Freedom Act to agree to a few weeks extension of Section 215 to allow for more negotiations among senators and between senators and House member. The Senate did vote, 77-17, to take up the House bill on Tuesday. It remains to be seen, however, how many, and what type, of amendments McConnell would allow to be brought to the floor, and, if some of these amendments are approved, whether House members would agree to any modifications to the USA Freedom Act.

The NSA’s broad domestic surveillance authority, granted to the agency when the Patriot Act was first reauthorized in 2006, expired on midnight after the Senate failed to extend Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which governs surveillance, or approve the House’s USA Freedom Act, which modified Section 215.

The Senate did vote, 77-17, to take up the House bill on Tuesday.

The failure of the Senate to do extend or modify the NSA’s surveillance power was the result of the unyielding position of Senator Rand Paul (R-Kentucky), who upset many fellow Republicans – some of whom even charged that his position makes him unsuitable to be the commander in chief (Rand is a declared candidate for the Republican nomination for president).

The New York Times notes that the failure of the Senate is also the result of a miscalculation by Senator Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky), the majority leader, who believed that the prospect of the expiration of Section 215 would lead opponent of the surveillance programs (like Senators Paul and Ron Wyden [D-Oregon]), supporters of the current program (most Republican senators, led by John McCain [Arizona], John Cornyn [Texas], and Lindsey Graham [South Carolina], joined by Senator Angus King [I-Maine]), and supporters of the House’s USA Freedom Act (most Democrats]) to agree to a few weeks extension of Section 215 to allow for more negotiations among senators and between senators and House member.

McConnell and other supporters of the current NSA data collection program admitted that even though they consider these programs essential to U.S. national security and an important weapon in the war against terrorism, there would now be no escape from substantial reforms which would restrict such data collection and storage.

On the other side, even the most ardent critics of the NSA surveillance programs admitted that though emboldened by the Edward Snowden revelations, their cause – limiting the ability of the NSA to collect mass amounts of data in order better to connect the dots once a suspicion against an individual is developed – has advanced further and faster than they had believed.

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