NSA Surveillance

UPDATED: Senate Approves House-Passed USA Freedom Act, Sends Bill To President Obama

UPDATE: 10 p.m. Eastern – President Obama signed the USA Freedom Act on Tuesday evening.

A statement was released on Twitter, prior to the signing, in which Obama called the time between when the NSA surveillance powers under the Patriot Act expired, to the time when the Senate passed the USA Freedom Act, resurrecting those powers, a “needless delay and inexcusable lapse in national security authorities.”

In the statement, Obama also said he was “gratified Congress has finally moved forward” with what he called “sensible reform legislation.”

4:20 p.m. Eastern – On Tuesday afternoon, the United States Senate rejected any amendments to and ultimately passed the version of the USA Freedom Act passed by the House of Representatives. The USA Freedom Act, which revives some of the NSA surveillance powers that expired with Section 215 of the Patriot Act on June 1, was passed in the Senate with a final vote of 67-32.

The USA Freedom Act was created as a substitute for Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which expired at 12:01 a.m. on June 1. The controversial Section 215 was used by the National Security Agency to justify its bulk collection of Americans’ data.

Advocates of the USA Freedom Act presented it as a way to curb the powers of the NSA by transferring the bulk collection Americans’ phone records to private companies. However, those in opposition noted that it wouldn’t end the government’s collection; it would only change the channels the government went through to collect Americans’ records.

The House of Representatives passed the USA Freedom Act with an overwhelming vote of 338-88, the bill failed to reach the 60-vote threshold needed in the Senate on May 22, with a 57-42, following a 10-hour and 30-minute speech from Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who has led the campaign against both the USA Freedom Act, and an extension of the Patriot Act.

Following a weeklong recess, in which many lawmakers vowed to lobby for the three votes needed to pass the USA Freedom Act, it was advanced in the Senate on Sunday, with a vote of 77-17.

The USA Freedom Act was advanced once again on Tuesday morning, with a vote of 83-14. A debate was held over amendments, and while Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell struck down the nine amendments presented by Senator Paul and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), he did bring up four amendments of his own, which were all rejected.

The bill will now be sent to President Obama, who strongly encouraged the Senate to approve the House-passed version of the USA Freedom Act, without adding any amendments and delaying the reinstatement of the NSA’s surveillance powers. According to the bill, the government will continue to collect Americans’ bulk data for the next six months. After that, phone companies will keep Americans’ phone records, and government officials will have to receive a warrant to gain access to the records.