1 Jun 2015

NSA loses Patriot Act phone-spying powers

US spy agencies lose the legal authority to collect Americans’ phone records and other data after the Senate failed to pass legislation extending such powers.

In a rare Sunday session, the Senate failed to vote through extension of the controversial Patriot Act powers, but did vote to advance reform legislation which would see data collection curtailed.

The new legislation, the US Freedom Act, will end bulk collection of domestic telephone “metadata” in favour of a more targeted approach. Critics of the Freedom Act say it does not go far enough to prevent government snooping on private information.

We are here tonight because the president continues to conduct an illegal programme. Rand Paul

However, final passage of the new legislation was delayed until at least Tuesday morning. With the failure to extend the Patriot Act powers, the NSA has temporarily lost its legal authority to snoop.

An extension of the Patriot Act and quick passage of the Freedom Act were blocked by Republican presidential hopeful Rand Paul, who led a filibuster – using extended debates in which he argued that data collection is illegal and unconstitutional.

“We are here tonight because the president continues to conduct an illegal programme”, he said, whilst also acknowledging that the Freedom Act will ultimately pass.

US President Barack Obama has been pushing for the Freedom Act which he believes is a compromise measure aimed at addressing privacy concerns whilst protecting the country from attack.

President Obama has said a “small group of senators is standing in the way” of the Freedom Act and are using the debate to “score political points”.

Republicans have been deeply divided on the issue with some wanting the NSA programme to continue as it is and others, such as libertarian Senator Paul, wanting to get rid of it all together.

Senator John McCain accused Senator Paul of trying to secure presidential campaign funds rather than deal with the national security issue.

“He obviously has a higher priority for his fundraising and political ambitions than for the security of the nation,” the 2008 Republican presidential nominee told reporters.

What does this mean?

The suspension of Patriot Act power means that as of midnight in the US on Sunday (4am GMT on Monday), US spy agencies are no longer allowed to bulk collect domestic telephone metadata.

Terrorists like al-Qaeda and Isil aren’t suddenly going to stop plotting against us at midnight. Barack Obama

As the debate was taking place on Capitol Hill on Sunday, the NSA began turning off the servers connected to such data.

And it is not just bulk collection powers that the US has now lost the legal authority for. Other powers lost include those allowing for “roving wiretaps” aimed at terrorism suspects who use multiple disposable cell phones; permitting authorities to target “lone wolf” suspects with no connection to specific terrorist groups, and those that make it easier to seize personal and business records of suspects and their associates.

President Obama had warned against such powers being suspended, saying: “Terrorists like al-Qaeda and Isil aren’t suddenly going to stop plotting against us at midnight, and we shouldn’t surrender the tools that help keep us safe.”

However, intelligence experts say a lapse of only a few days would have little immediate effect, and resumption of data collection in a new form, under the Freedom Act, is expected as the Senate voted 77-17 to take up the reform legislation.

The US is still allowed to collect information related to any foreign intelligence investigation that began before the deadline.

However, the Freedom Act could be set for more debate after Republican Senator Richard Burr offered several amendments, including one to extend the existing Patriot Act powers for 12 months to provide more time to adopt changes mandated by the Freedom Act.

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The NSA has lost some spying powers, but they can still gather information from around the world. Find out what they know.Read more – http://bit.ly/1FPGivs

Posted by Channel 4 News on Monday, June 1, 2015