A bill to limit the National Security Agency’s surveillance has failed in a night vote by the U.S. Senate. The USA Freedom Act, created in the wake of Edward Snowden’s NSA revelations, was unable to garner the minimum 60 votes to move forward. The final result was 58-42 against.
It was the first attempt at reining in the NSA during the post 9/11 era. Its failure means the agency will continue to have access to U.S. citizens’ phone records, despite support for the bill from the House of Representatives, the White House and even the NSA.
Tech companies like Apple, Google, Microsoft and Yahoo also supported the bill.
In addition to stopping the mass collection of phone records, the bill would have forced the government to disclose the number of people whose data had been collected and if they were American or not. It also would have created a panel of advocates for privacy and civil liberties in the Foreign Intelligence and Surveillance Court that would have ruled if law enforcement officials could spy or not.
For detractors of the bill, the victory is merely part one of a bigger fight to retain powers for data-collecting national security agencies. On June 1, 2015, section 215 of the Patriot Act will expire, which will curtail the NSA’s legal ability to continue its data collection.
It’s unclear whether Congress will reauthorize Section 215.
Tuesday night’s vote to retain the status quo is an indication Section 215 may be in the balance, especially given that the House passed the Freedom Act in May.
In a fierce yet short debate prior to the vote, senators gave their thoughts on the act.
"This is the worst possible time to be tying our hands behind our backs," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
On the other hand, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., rejected the argument a vote to stop mass surveillance would be a gift to ISIS or other terrorists. “We learned the bulk phone records had not, as previously advertised, thwarted 54 terrorist attacks, or even dozens, or even a few,” Leahy said. “It may have possibly helped on one.”
And while most Republicans voted against the bill, Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, was in favor. “The data collection at issue was not limited to those actually suspected of terrorist activity,” he said. “Opponents say it will impair our national security. ... What opponents of this bill fail to appreciate is that most Americans are deeply, deeply concerned about the collection of their personal information.”
The American Civil Liberties Union, which put its weight behind the bill, now fears that little will be done to contain domestic spying unless Congress acts before the end of the year.
"This [was] the last best chance to get something down before Snowden fades from public consciousness," Laura Murphy, director of the ACLU's Washington legislative office, told USA Today.