The Senate overwhelmingly voted to overhaul the Patriot Act approximately 40 hours after three of the programs expired. On Tuesday afternoon, June 2, 2015 the Senate passed the USA Freedom Act with a vote of 67 to 32. The bill put an end to the National Security Administrations’ (NSA) sweeping collection of phone record data. After the vote, President Barack Obama tweeted that he would sign it as soon as would reach his desk. Earlier in the afternoon, the bill passes its final procedural hurdle 83 to 14, and the Senate voted on the adding of amendments, and then vote on the final bill.
The major difference between the Patriot Act and USA Freedom Act is Section 215 relating to the bulk phone data collection, the NSA will no longer be collecting the data, after a six-month phase out the phone companies will keep the data and the NSA would need a warrant from a federal court to obtain the records. The act remains in effect until 2019.
After President Obama signs the three programs will restart, a process that will take entire day. They include bulk phone records metadata collection, “lone wolf” and roving wiretaps provisions. President Obama tweeted after the bill passed, “Glad the Senate finally passed the USA Freedom Act. It protects civil liberties and our national security. I’ll sign it as soon as I get it.”
The bipartisan bill’s authors were pleased with the vote. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-VT, who authored the USA Freedom Act expressed after the vote, “It’s an historic moment. It’s the first major overhaul in government surveillance laws in decades and adds significant privacy protections for the American people.” While Sen. Mike Lee, R-UT, said “The American people intuitively understand that it’s nobody’s business who they are calling.”
The passage was a failure for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-KY, who wanted a renewal of the Patriot Act until 2020 with all its provisions. Before the vote, McConnell stated on the Senate floor prior to the vote, “I cannot support passage of the so-called USA Freedom Act. It does not enhance the privacy protections of American citizens. And it surely undermines American security by taking one more tool from our warfighters at exactly the wrong time.”
McConnell also failed on three amendments he wanted added. The first amendment changes “the structure of a new expert panel created by the USA Freedom Act to weigh in on some matters before the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court,” that amendment failed with a vote of 42 to 56. The second amendment McConnell wanted was that the bulk phone collection continue their transition for a year as opposed to six months, that amendment failed 44 to 54.
The last amendment required telecommunications companies to notify Congress six months in advance if they “change their data retention procedures,” then require that the director of national intelligence certify that those new “retention’s processes” are working that amendment failed with a vote of 43 to 56..
The House Judiciary Committee objected to the amendments saying it would both weaken the bill and would be opposes by privacy rights advocates. The bill’s passage was a victory for privacy rights advocates, and Sen. Rand Paul, R-KY who fiercely opposed the bulk collection of phone record data, and worked to make sure the program expired on Sunday, May 31 and that the Patriot Act extension would not pass. Speaking on the Senate floor, Paul argued, “This is a debate over the Fourth Amendment. This is a debate over your right to be left alone.”
Bonnie K. Goodman is the Editor of the Academic Buzz Network, a series of political, academic & education blogs which includes History Musings: History, News & Politics. She has a BA in History & Art History & a Masters in Library and Information Studies, both from McGill University, and has done graduate work in Jewish history at Concordia University as part of the MA in Judaic Studies program. She covers US, Canadian & Israeli politics, with a particular focus on the Obama presidency, Congress, domestic policy, and elections.