This has been an interesting month for the future of the NSA’s bulk collection of metadata. Near the beginning of the month, the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals ruled “The text of (Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act) cannot bear the weight the government asks us to assign to it, and … does not authorize the telephone metadata program.” However, the Court did not order the program to be halted citing the June 1 expiration date. However, the Congress would not allow an illegal spying program to go away without a fight.
Even though the official deadline for passing a bill either extending Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act, or passing a new bill to authorize the spying program is May 31; with Congress in holiday recess, the actual deadline was May 23, maybe. Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell attempted to rush through a few bills before going on recess. Both failed procedural votes. Antiwar.com reports, “The first vote, aimed at an unamended version of the USA FREEDOM Act, which the House had already passed, fell short by just three votes, at 57-42…
The second vote, a two-month extension of Section 215 aimed at just buying some time … failed 54-45.”
Sen. Rand Paul has been given a lot of credit for killing the extension of Section 215, and opposing the spying program in general. Many will point to Paul’s 10 ½ hour speech, that he called a filibuster, to support their claim. However, his speech was not actually a filibuster. NBC reports, “By definition, a filibuster is any obstruction that prevents legislation from being brought to a vote. And there was no legislation up for a vote on the day of Paul’s speech.” Filibuster or not, Sen. Paul was on “Meet the Press” last Sunday and said, “I would actually keep the NSA. In fact, I would have the NSA target their activities more and more towards our enemies.”
Knowing that the NSA is currently operating outside of its legal authority, Sen. Paul still wants to keep the agency open, only requiring they obtain a warrant from the FISA Court, which essentially rubber stamps every warrant request they receive, before spying on someone deemed an enemy.
Edward Snowden, the man who exposed the massive spying programs run by the NSA said on Reddit, “There are always reasons to be concerned that regardless of the laws passed, some agencies in government (FBI, NSA, CIA, and DEA, for example, have flouted laws in the past) will misconstrue the intent of Congress in passing limiting laws — or simply disregard them totally. For example, the DOJ’s internal watchdog, the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) released a report claiming, among other abuses, that it could simply refuse to tell government oversight bodies what exactly it was doing, so the legality or illegality of their operations simply couldn’t be questioned at all.”
If there is no reauthorization of Section 215, and no new authorization for the bulk collection program is passed before May 31, the DOJ will begin winding down the NSA telephone surveillance program. There is a possibility, according to Antiwar.com, of a vote on May 31. So, it’s possible that over the next week, there will be enough fear-mongering from the leaders of the two major parties, that upon returning from recess the Senate and House overwhelmingly support an extension of the spying program, thus rendering all of the excitement of failed votes void.