While Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., pushes for a compromise and renewal of the USA PATRIOT Act, especially of Section 215, the National Security Agency (NSA) has begun paring down its telephone metadata surveillance program.
In a memo last week, the Department of Justice (DOJ) instructed the intelligence agency to prepare to wind down its bulk telephone metadata collection program, in the event that Section 215 expired on June 1. As of right now, it appears that June 1 will come and go without new legislation being passed to maintain some of the PATRIOT Act's programs and without a renewal of the law.
Although the U.S. House of Representatives passed the USA Freedom Act with a vote of 338-88, the Senate failed to pass the surveillance reform legislation in an early Saturday vote. It fell only three votes short of the necessary 60 to pass.
Republicans cast all but one of the “no” votes.
McConnell championed the idea of extending the current law, even for a period of weeks or months, to allow for further compromise on legislation. However, his fellow Kentucky Senator Rand Paul (R), told the Associated Press that the failed extension was a victory for privacy rights.
“We should never give up our rights for a false sense of security,” he said.
The Senate returns to session on May 31, at which point a last-ditch compromise could be worked out, although both Republicans and Democrats seem to have staunch views on a renewal.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), along with a host of other privacy advocate groups, has pushed Congress to reject a renewal of Section 215.
“EFF urges Congress to again reject Section 215 reauthorization, and then turn to addressing other surveillance abuses by the U.S. government, including mass surveillance of the Internet, the secretive and one-sided FISA Court, and the problems of secrecy and over-classification that have created the environment that allowed such spying overreach to flourish,” the group wrote in a blog post.