Tonight, the Senate fell two votes short of the 60 votes needed to advance the USA Freedom Act, severely undermining any chance of a vote this Congress on surveillance reform and allowing the NSA’s bulk collection of Americans’ telephone records to continue for now.
The bill, reintroduced by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), had wide support from the Obama administration, privacy groups, and telecommunications companies, and was seen as a good first step in reining in overly broad government surveillance programs.
“The decision of a minority of Senators to ignore the will of the American people and filibuster surveillance reform is deeply disappointing,” said Elizabeth Goitein, co-director of the Liberty and National Security Program at the Brennan Center for Justice. “But they have only delayed the inevitable. The law that the NSA has used to justify the bulk collection of Americans’ telephone records will expire next year unless it is renewed. Come June 2015, members of both houses will have to vote either to continue the NSA’s spying on innocent Americans or to end it.”
“The Senate missed a real opportunity tonight to end an unnecessary surveillance program that has collected too much data for far too long,” said Faiza Patel, co-director of the Liberty and National Security Program at the Brennan Center for Justice. “Americans don’t like what the NSA is doing, the least the Senate could do was to allow their representatives to openly debate the merits of its programs.”
In addition to banning the bulk collection of Americans’ data, the bill would have given the secret “FISA Court” the option of hearing from lawyers who represent Americans’ privacy interests and require the government to disclose redacted versions or summaries of significant FISA Court opinions.
The new Republican-controlled Congress will now confront the issue of bulk collection when Section 215 of the Patriot Act is up for reauthorization in June 2015.