On Tuesday, the Senate failed to obtain the 60 votes necessary to advance the Freedom Act bill which would stop the National Security Agency from collecting phone records of millions of Americans, regardless if they are suspected of any crime.
Senators voted 58-42 in favor to bring the bill before the Senate, effectively killing the bill for this year. Former NSA contractor Edward Snowden brought to light the program and more than a year afterward the Freedom Act was birthed. The Freedom Act would have ended the NSA’s indiscreet and mass collection of phone data if passed.
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The vote came during a period of rising concerns over the threat from the Islamic State and republicans’ gains in the House and Senate. While the bill was sponsored by a bipartisan coalition of senators, it did not go far enough to satisfy privacy advocates in both parties.
“At a moment when the United States is conducting a military campaign to disrupt, dismantle and defeat (the Islamic State), now is not the time to be considering legislation that takes away the exact tools we need to combat (the Islamic State),” – Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell
Lawmakers argued that the bill would hamstring the U.S. intelligence agencies at a time when terrorist threats again the United States are on the rise. Republicans failed to approve the bill perhaps in a bid to gain more power next year over a similar bill. During the lame-duck session, Republicans might be better waiting to pass the Freedom Act until they have control of the Senate.
The Obama administration was in strong support of the billing, saying it would not hamper the government’s ability to catch terrorists. According to a statement of support by the White House, while the NSA would no longer be able to collected mass data on Americans’ phone records, the NSA could still conduct targeted collections.
Major U.S. tech companies have been pushing for the bill’s approval, voicing concerns that the NSA controversy has made it hard for them to convince foreign customers that they will not be spied upon by the U.S. government. Americans are also increasingly worried about their privacy. A survey released last week by the Pew Research Center showed that 70% of adults are concerned that the government may be accessing personal information via social networking sites without their knowledge.
The NSA has used Section 215 of the anti-terrorism Patriot Act as a basis to collect records from U.S. phone companies. The data collected shows information including data and time of calls, how long it lasted, who received the call and the data can be stored for up to five years. The data does not include the actual conversations.
Not only would the Freedom Bill have stopped the mass collection of phone records, but it would have required the government to disclose the number of people whose data have been collected as well as report how many of them were American citizens.
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