The Senate failed to pass legislation late Sunday to extend three Patriot Act surveillance measures ahead of their midnight expiration. The National Security Agency's bulk telephone metadata collection program—first exposed by Edward Snowden in 2013—is the most high profile of the three spy tools whose legal authorization expired.I expect this victory to be short lived, but even this temporary and largely symbolic setback for the overweening security state heartens me a bit.
President Barack Obama was set to sign the bill, the USA Freedom Act, ahead of the midnight Sunday deadline. But Senate lawmakers who convened in a special session at 4pm ET Sunday could not reach an accord. The Senate is to resume debate Monday at noon ET.
As expected, there was much banter back and forth on the Senate floor about whether the Constitution was being gutted or whether the country would come to ruins if the Senate did not quickly adopt the already approved House legislation ahead of the June 1 expiration deadline. (The three Patriot Act provisions that failed to pass the Senate were renewed days ago in the House through 2019.)
"Are we willing to trade liberty for security?" asked Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), perhaps the most vocal opponent of the legislation. Despite an apparent victory, Paul had no illusions that this fight for privacy would end after these specific extension talks. "The Patriot Act will expire tonight, but it will only be temporary," he added.
The three Patriot Act provisions on the agenda would have been extended until 2019 if approved. The first concerns the so-called "business records" provision that enabled the NSA's bulk telephone metadata program brought to light by the Snowden disclosures. This provision granted the government the power to seize all types of records—including those surrounding health and banking. The authorities must assert to the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Court (FISA Court) that they are "relevant" to a terrorism investigation before getting a warrant. The bulk metadata collection program was altered somewhat under the House and Senate legislation, however.
*I f%$#ing cannot f%$#ing believe that I f%$#ing just f%$#ing said that non-ironically.