United States Senate finds itself under a great deal of pressure to pass a bill on the National Security Agency (NSA) surveillance program until Jun. 1, 2015, or crucial provisions of the Patriot Act will simply expire. First and foremost, the NSA will have to stop collecting in bulk phone records, for all the landlines and cell phones, received inside or made outside the United States. Second, the NSA will be prohibited of using roving wiretaps, something which FBI does for criminals who often change cell phones. Last but not the least, it will be close to impossible for the NSA to obtain a warrant for a so-called ‘lone wolf’ suspect of terrorism, who has no clear links with any terrorist organization.
Pressure is even higher on the United States Senate, after a lopsided bipartisan vote in the House of Representatives has passed the bill known as the U.S.A. Freedom Act, which will terminate the NSA phone bulk collection. The vote to pass the bill on May 13, 2015 was overwhelming, 338 to 88. Under this bill, the NSA is banned from collecting and storing metadata, and every time they would need phone records, they should require a warrant, while the phone data will be provided by the telephone companies. The requests from the NSA should also be based on relevant keywords, to show they are sensitive for the national security. The bill also enforces a panel of five advocates from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Court (FISA), to rule on privacy matters and civil liberties issues. Currently, the FISA Court hearings are held in secret and if the NSA will request phone records, kept under the law by the phone companies for 18 months, they will have to address the FISA Court first. Among other issues sanctioned by the bill, it will forbid the NSA to indiscriminate tap calls at a local small-scale, based on ZIP code and will permit individuals or companies to reject letters the government sends for routine national security demands.
United States Senate majority leader, Rep. Mitch McConnell has shown resistance to the bill passed by the House of Representatives and stated that would attempt to pass a bill to renew the provisions of the Patriot Act, with no change. However, McConnell said he is also opened to compromise, to reach an accord with the bill passed by the House. In support of the U.S.A. Freedom Act bill is Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, the creator of the Patriot Act, who said that never meant the NSA to use the Patriot Act for mass surveillance. Speaking of an imminent vote in the United States Senate on the Freedom Act bill, republicans and democrats have pointed fingers at Mitch McConnell, and affirmed their support for the bill passed by the House. Furthermore, republicans like Sen. Rand Paul, a contender for the republicans nominations for the White House, said that will consider even to filibuster if the Senate will be asked to renew the bill without any kind of changes. Like him, a democrat, Sen. Ron Wyden has declared his intention to filibuster.
Encumbered to pass the Freedom Act bill, the United States Senate leader McConnell has also to take into consideration a recent decision of the U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeal, which ruled that the NSA has exceeded its legal prerogatives on indiscriminate bulk collection, from millions of individuals, who were not under any kind of suspicion. The decision of the federal court does not rule on stopping the NSA from collecting and storing phone metadata, which leaves obviously to the U.S. Congress, and in this case, the United States Senate.
Faced with the possibility the United States Senate to pass a bill with no changes, the House of Representatives leaders have already made it clear a re-start of the bill will be impossible. The House bill does not address some other issues, like the online NSA surveillance, for which the lawmakers and organizations have voiced for the Section 215 literally to be left flat-out to expire. Still, the Freedom Act is believed to provide both national security and freedom, values which were tainted by the NSA domestic spying program. The United States Senate time to act is limited, in order to enact into law a glimmering chance to restore what is a quintessential reference point in any solid and functional constitutional society, the freedom.
By Lucky Graziano
ABC News–Senate Under Pressure After House Votes to End NSA Program
LA Times–House votes overwhelmingly to end NSA’s mass collection of phone records
RT USA–U.S. House votes to reform NSA bulk data collection
Photo Courtesy of Speaker John Boehner’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License