Empire Strikes Back: Patriot Act Surveillance Powers Restored After Brief Lapse

In a 67-32 vote, the U.S. Senate passed an amended version of the USA Freedom Act, which among other things changes the way the National Security Agency can tap into phone records. The NSA can no longer collect phone records in bulk as it was allowed to do before that provision of the post-911 Patriot Act expired, and instead requires telecoms to store the records.

The government can still access those records, but would need a court order. Part of the intent is that the NSA will only see phone records belonging to targeted individuals suspected of terrorism, as opposed to records belonging to thousands of individuals. It's an amendment to Section 215 of the Patriot Act, one of three key provisions that expired two nights ago.

Image Source: Flickr (Larry Lamsa)

Along with a revised Section 215, the other two provisions of the Patriot Act were restored by voting the USA Freedom Act into law. The other two include a "lone wolf" provision that gives intelligence agencies permission to follow terrorists who might not be part of a terrorist group, and a provision for roving wiretaps so that intelligence agencies can track someone who uses different phone lines to evade detection.

President Barack Obama voiced his ongoing support for the measure, and criticized those who delayed the bill's passing.

"After a needless delay and inexcusable lapse in important national security authorities, my administration will work expeditiously to ensure our national security professionals again have the full set of vital tools they need to continue protecting the country," President Obama said in a statement.

The "needless delay" was in large part due to Senator Rand Paul, a Republican presidential hopeful who forced the expiration of the Patriot Act's key provision by filibustering. This time around, he was oddly quiet about the USA Freedom Act, and instead simple entered his "No" vote.
Tags:  NSA