The Obama administration has decided not to ask a secret court for a 90-day extension of Section 215 in the Patriot Act, putting an end to the authorized bulk collection of U.S. phone metadata by the National Security Agency.
Saturday morning, a bill called the USA Freedom Act suffered a procedural defeat in the Senate, despite having bipartisan support. If passed, it would have banned the NSA’s bulk metadata collection program, but simultaneously renewed another Patriot Act measure allowing the Federal Bureau of Investigation to access business records, plus large swaths of communications metadata.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has been leading a campaign to maintain all of the domestic surveillance powers in the Patriot Act intact, and is hoping to win a temporary extension once the Senate reconvenes on May 31 after the Memorial Day holiday. The House of Representatives isn’t due to return until June 1 however, and predominantly favored the Freedom Act.
May 7 , the federal appeals court ruled that the NSA’s bulk collection program was illegal, which may explain the Obama administration’s decision. This leaves McConnell and his supporters with an uphill battle.
Attention to the dangers of Section 215 was first drawn in June 2013 by Edward Snowden, an NSA contractor who leaked numerous documents to the Guardian. Snowden’s documents continue to emerge, and have shown for example that the NSA has obtained data from major technology companies such as Apple, AT&T, Google, Verizon, and Microsoft, with or without their willing participation.
Earlier this month a secret summit was held in Oxfordshire, England with current and former intelligence officials from around the world joined by executives from Apple, Google, and Vodafone. At issue was the impact of maintaining data privacy on protecting the state.