07:47 GMT +321 May 2019
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    A computer workstation bears the National Security Agency (NSA) logo inside the Threat Operations Center inside the Washington suburb of Fort Meade, Maryland

    US Senate Blocks Bill on NSA Domestic Surveillance Reform

    © AFP 2019 / PAUL J. RICHARDS
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    The "USA Freedom Act," which aimed to reform certain federal surveillance programs and to end US spy agencies' bulk collection of residents’ phone call data, has failed in the Senate.

    The vote was 57-42 against, stopping debate on the measure. It would not have needed 60 "yes" votes threshold to move ahead.

    This marks the second time in less than a year that US Senators have rejected the bill.

    It had previously been successfully passed in the House of Representatives by 338-88 margin.

    Had lawmakers approved the Freedom Act, the bulk collection of Americans’ telephone records, as conducted by the government under a controversial interpretation of Section 215 of the Patriot Act, would have been limited by new restrictions.

    The Patriot Act is set to expire at the end of the month, and the USA Freedom Act would have extended large portions of the act in modified form.

    Under the USA Freedom Act, which stands for "Uniting and Strengthening America by Fulfilling Rights and Ending Eavesdropping, Dragnet-collection and Online Monitoring Act", the NSA would be required to move its telephone metadata collection program into the hands of communications providers within six months, amending the Patriot Act.

    During the vote on Friday, a rival bill, to extend the US Patriot Act for five years as it is, also failed with a vote of 45-54.

    The USA Patriot Act, which stands for "Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism”, was signed into law by President George W. Bush on October 26, 2001 as a response to the September 11, 2001 attacks.

    On May 26, 2011, President Barack Obama signed the Patriot Sunsets Extension Act of 2011, a four-year extension of three key provisions in the USA Patriot Act: roving wiretaps, searches of business records (the "library records provision"), and conducting surveillance of "lone wolves"-individuals suspected of terrorist-related activities not linked to terrorist groups.

    Since its passage, Section 215 has been legally interpreted by NSA and two presidential administrations to justify the mass surveillance program on the US citizens.

    On May 7, 2015, a US federal appeals court ruled that the NSA’s mass phone surveillance program exceeded the scope of what the US Congress had authorized under Section 215 of the Patriot Act.

    The senators will re-convene on Sunday, May 31, just hours before the deadline, for one last shot at passing the bill.

    Tags:
    USA Freedom Act, National Security Agency (NSA), US Senate, United States
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