The US Senate has just voted down the USA Freedom Act by a vote of 58-42, leaving it just two votes shy of the 60 it needed. The bill would have ended the controversial phone record metadata collection by the NSA, but the Senate was not in favor of rolling back any of the NSA’s broad surveillance powers.
While telephone companies would have still collected the data in question, the records would have stayed in the hands of the phone companies and a new type of court order would have been needed by the government to access these records. Additionally, companies would no longer have been required to hold onto their records longer than they ordinarily would have for normal business purposes.
However, new legislation around this program will still be required despite the Senate’s vote today. Next June, the legal basis for the phone record collection program as part of the Patriot Act will expire — so new legislation will be required if the NSA wants to have continued easy access to these records.
Originally, the USA Freedom Act was meant to be not just a way to ban bulk collection under Section 215 but a multi-pronged reform bill, incorporating changes to how the government managed national security letters and internet surveillance. But a series of amendments to the House version weakened it, until a last-minute change watered it down to the point that some privacy advocates withdrew support. The bill passed, but Leahy promised to roll back the biggest changes with his own Senate version, which was introduced this summer.