The Senate, by a vote of 58 to 42, failed to advance to debate on the USA Freedom Act, a bill to reform bulk data collection by the National Security Agency. The NSA has faced considerable criticism from the public and lawmakers since revelations by former contractor Edward Snowden concerning the agency’s broad surveillance programs. (He revealed several surveillance programs by the agency.) The USA Freedom Act, introduced by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont), chairman of the Judiciary Committee, and a host of Democratic and Republican co-sponsors. The legislation was backed by the Obama administration, which called for reforms in January. The Washington Post reports:
Congress and the administration face a June 1 expiration of a key provision of the USA Patriot Act that enables the intelligence community to gather data for counterterrorism purposes. Section 215 allows the government to obtain specific records relevant to particular investigations. But, as Snowden disclosed, it also was the authority cited by the government to enable the NSA to collect data in bulk. Reform advocates want to end that bulk collection but in general maintain the government’s ability to issue targeted orders for data.
The 58-to-42 vote exposed fissures in the GOP over the legislation, with national security-oriented members and a vocal privacy proponent, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), voting to block the bill — but for different reasons.
Paul, a likely 2016 presidential candidate, opposed the USA Freedom Act because he said it does not go far enough to limit surveillance powers.
The incoming majority leader, Mitch McConnell, a fellow Kentucky senator, also opposed the bill, but for the opposite reason: It went too far, he said, in constraining the U.S. intelligence community. […]
In January, citing the potential for abuse, Obama called on Congress to find a way to end the NSA data storage, while preserving its ability to obtain needed data. The bill would require the NSA to request specific data from phone companies under specified limits.
The agency now collects call times, dates and durations of calls but not the content of calls. The government would need to show it had reasonable, articulable suspicion that the number it is interested in is tied to a foreign terrorist organization or individual.
It would also require the federal surveillance court to appoint a panel of public advocates to advance legal positions in support of privacy and civil liberties, and would expand company reporting to the public on the scope of government requests for customers’ data.