Update 6/3: With the expiration of the Patriot Act over the weekend, the Senate has approved the USA Freedom Act, and President Obama has now signed it into law. With the passage, law enforcement can continue domestic surveillance. However, there are a number of new privacy restrictions in place. The government's ability to spy on citizens has been a controversial issue since it was disclosed in leaked documents from NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.
The new law addresses the most controversial program that Snowden leaked, the mass collection of U.S. phone records. But it does not change another major issue he revealed: the NSA’s ability to sweep up foreign Internet content from U.S. tech companies. The problem with that program is that it inadvertently collects lots of American communications, as well.
Update 5/26: The NSA's controversial bulk collection of American phone records is dead in the water after the Senate failed to extend sections of the Patriot Act that authorized the spying program.
The Senate is now expected to pass the USA Freedom Act, which it had previously voted down. That legislation would prevent the NSA from collecting phone records in bulk in the future and also add more transparency to other spying activities.
The NSA isn't the only agency affected by the expiration. According to The Guardian "the FBI is prevented from using powers granted under the Patriot Act, including the pursuit of so-called 'business records' relating to Internet use, hotel and rental car records and credit card statements." The expiration also put an end to roving wiretaps and the targeting of "lone wolf" suspects who aren't affiliated with specific terrorist groups.
Original Story: Remember when I told you that the USA Freedom Act could end one of the worst government spy programs, while still allowing most of the Patriot Act to be renewed? Yeah, that didn't happen. It fell short by just three votes in the Senate.
With the USA Freedom Act stalled, the Patriot Act, which has been around since September 2001, is going to expire at the end of the month. As of now, it doesn't look like lawmakers are going to come to an agreement on extending or modifying it, although they've scheduled an emergency session on May 31.
Because the Patriot Act is the legal basis for many of the NSA's spy programs, including the ones that collect cell phone data from U.S. citizens, it can't continue them once the Patriot Act expires. The Senate's failure, so far, to pass the proposed USA Freedom Act triggers shut down of programs so they're off by June 1.
Do you think that this is a good step forward, or will Congress salvage it at the last minute? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.