A Key Bill Meant To Limit NSA Surveillance Programs Was Just Stopped In Its Tracks
A bill championed by privacy rights advocates, the tech industry, and the White House was suddenly blocked Tuesday night when it did not receive the necessary votes to proceed in the Senate.
The bill, the USA Freedom Act, aimed to rein in some of the National Security Agency's controversial surveillance programs, including its ability to collect so-called metadata in bulk. Many of these programs drew international attention when former NSA contractor Edward Snowden leaked documents revealing their existence in 2013.
However, when the votes were all counted Tuesday night, the bill received 58 of 100 senators' votes when it needed 60 to clear a procedural hurdle. Though the legislation enjoyed bipartisan support, including from conservatives like Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), it also received criticism from both sides of the debate.
Some privacy advocates, including Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky), felt the legislation didn't go far enough. In particular, Paul took exception to the extension of the controversial Patriot Act.
"As Benjamin Franklin put it, 'Those who trade their liberty for security may wind up with neither.' Today's vote to oppose further consideration of the Patriot Act extension proves that we are one step closer to restoring civil liberties in America," Paul said in a statement after the bill failed.
The Republican caucus was mostly united against the legislation. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida), who like Paul and Cruz is looking at a presidential campaign in 2016, directly warned the bill would empower the Islamic State jihadists (also known as ISIS or ISIL).
"As the rise of ISIL has demonstrated, the world is as dangerous as ever, and extremists are being cultivated and recruited right here at home. This legislation would significantly weaken and, in some cases, entirely do away with some of the most important counter-terrorism capabilities at our disposal, which is why I will not support it," Rubio said in a statement.
Supporters of the bill nevertheless vowed to keep advocating for the cause. Sen. Pat Leahy (D-Vermont), the sponsor of the NSA reform legislation, slammed the Republican caucus in his own statement but insisted he was "not new to this fight"
"Tonight, Senate Republicans have failed to answer the call of the American people who elected them, and all of us, to stand up and to work across the aisle. Once again, they reverted to scare tactics rather than to working productively to protect Americans' basic privacy rights and our national security," Leahy said.
The White House strongly endorsed the legislation in a statement Monday evening, warning that without its passage, "critical authorities that are appropriately reformed in this legislation could expire next summer."
According to the New York Times, the act would have implemented several different reforms:
* Require the NSA to "ask phone companies for the records of a specific person or address when it is searching for terrorists, instead of scooping up all the records in an area code or city."
* Force the agency to "show why it needs those records, and to disclose how much data is being collecting."
* And "create a panel of advocates to support privacy rights and civil liberties in arguments before the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court; currently, there is no one to offer opposition to government requests before the court."
Update (8:27 p.m.): With additional statements and content throughout.