Obama signs bill remaking NSA phone records program
Updated: 2015-06-03 10:58
The legislation remakes the most controversial aspect of the USA Patriot Act - the once-secret bulk collection program that allows the National Security Agency to sweep up Americans' phone records and comb through them for ties to international terrorists. Over six months the NSA would lose the power to collect and store those records, but the government still could gain court orders to obtain data connected to specific numbers from the phone companies, which typically store them for 18 months.
It would also continue other post-9/11 surveillance provisions that lapsed Sunday night, and which are considered more effective than the phone-data collection program. These include the FBI's authority to gather business records in terrorism and espionage investigations and to more easily eavesdrop on suspects who are discarding cellphones to avoid surveillance.
"This legislation is critical to keeping Americans safe from terrorism and protecting their civil liberties," said Boehner. The outcome capped a dramatic series of events on Capitol Hill that saw a presidential candidate, Sen. Rand Paul, defy fellow Republicans and singlehandedly force the existing law to lapse Sunday at midnight, leading to dire warnings of threats to America.
The suspense continued Tuesday as McConnell tried to get the Senate to go along with three amendments he said would make the House bill more palatable. But House leaders warned that if presented with the changes the House might not be able to approve them. The Senate denied McConnell's attempts, an embarrassment for the leader six months after Republicans retook Senate control.
The changes sought by McConnell included lengthening the phase-out period of the bulk records program from six months to a year, requiring the director of national intelligence to certify that the NSA can effectively search records held by the phone companies and making phone companies notify the government if they change their policy on how long they hold the records. Most controversially, McConnell would have weakened the power of a new panel of outside experts created to advise the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.
The final vote divided Senate Republicans, with 23 voting "yes" and 30 voting "no," and senators seeking re-election in 2016 split on the issue.