Despite picking up what was termed strong support from the White House, the USA Freedom Act failed to garner enough votes in the Senate to move forward.
The bill, which would put the kibosh on the agency's bulk collection of metadata, a program revealed by Edward Snowden, was voted down — though it received a 58-42 vote in favor, it did not get enough yays to break a filibuster by Senate Republicans who said if approved the act might make the country more vulnerable to another terrorist attacks.
“We live in a dangerous world, and the threat by Isil [ISIS] only makes it more so,” said Sen. Mitch McConnell (D-Ky.) in a statement.
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, who introduced the bill, denounced the what he said were “scare tactics” by some of those in the Senate who opposed it.
The White House, in a statement Monday, had expressed its support for the proposed legislation, after previously rejecting a similar, but diluted, bill in the House. Prior to the Tuesday vote, critics voiced their opposition, with Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) saying that it would be “the worst possible time to be tying our hands behind our back” and contending that the Senate “should not be doing anything to make the situation worse.”
Indeed, the NSA warrantless spying program has not prevented a single domestic terrorist nor has it been instrumental in identifying or thwarting ISIS operatives. “The NSA has had every single tool available while Isil built up its strength and not one single alarm bill rang, so let's deal with the facts, not hypotheticals,” Leahy said, according to a report in The Guardian.
Privacy advocates at the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) chastised the Senate in a statement issued after the vote. “We are disappointed that the Senate has failed to advance the USA Freedom Act, a good start for bipartisan surveillance reform that should have passed the Senate,” the group noted, urging the Senate to keep reform on the table. “The Senate still has the remainder of the current legislative session to pass the USA Freedom Act. We continue to urge the Senate to do so and only support amendments that will make it stronger.”
Leahy noted that “the broad coalition we have built in favor of the USA FREEDOM Act shows that we are gaining ground” and indicated the fight was not over.
EFF said it opposed “any amendment that would water down the strong privacy, special advocate, and transparency provisions of the bill,” which is views as “a first step in comprehensive surveillance reform.”
The group called for“significant changes to Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Amendments Act, to the operations of Executive Order 12333, and to the broken classification system that the executive branch counts on to hide unconstitutional surveillance from the public.”