US Senate passes bill to reform NSA surveillance programme

NSA bulk collection of telephone metadata comes to end as Senate approves USA Freedom Act to reform surveillance programmes

Photo by: AP
Photo by: AP

Updated Jul 28, 2015

The US Senate approved USA Freedom Act on Tuesday to end the bulk collection of Americans’ telephone data by the National Security Agency (NSA) pending approval by the White House.

The bill, which was approved by the House of Representatives earlier with a huge bipartisan majority, passed the Senate with a 67-32 vote after several proposals to amend it fell short of garnering necessary support.

USA Freedom Act reforms the surveillance programmes by US spy agencies transferring the authority to store telephone metadata from the NSA to private telecommunications companies and requires the NSA to present targeted warrants to acquire the data.

The bill was introduced to the Senate reluctantly by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) late on Sunday as the efforts to extend the provisions of USA Patriot Act, which authorised the government spy agencies to collect domestic telephone metadata, failed by strong opposition from Republican presidential candidate Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky and other civil libertarians and constitutional conservatives.

After the bill cleared the votes in the Senate President Obama said he would sign it as soon as he gets it.

The legislation is the first reform to spy agencies’ surveillance programmes which were introduced with USA Patriot Act in the wake of 9/11 attacks, that lapsed on Monday.

The existence of the NSA bulk collection of the Americans’ telephone metadata, which encompasses information about who called whom at which time for how long, was revealed by former contractor Edward Snowden in 2013, prompting calls for reform.

On May 7, a US appeals court concluded that the NSA bulk collection programme exceeded the scope of what Congress authorised and was therefore illegal.

Before its final passage, McConnell, who described the bill as “a step in the wrong direction,” proposed amendments to it, including one to extend the time before the transfer of the data collection authority from six months to 12. All amendments were defeated.

Any amendment would have prolonged the process for the passage of the bill sending it back to the House of Representatives, leader of which urged the Senate to not amend the bill.

Although they acknowledge that USA Freedom Act is a reform restricting government spying on citizens, privacy advocates claim that it falls short of being satisfactory as the warrants will still be issued by secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA).

TRTWorld and agencies