Phone Data Collection Sure to Continue Despite Patriot Act Expiration
NEWS ANALYSIS: Just because the legislative authority for bulk collection of phone metadata officially ended as of June 1, that doesn't mean it has actually stopped, because it hasn't.The good news, if you're a civil libertarian, is that Section 215 of the Patriot Act officially expired at midnight on May 31. The bad news, if you're a civil libertarian, is that the National Security Agency isn't stopping its collection of phone data for long. If you're familiar with how things work in Washington, this shouldn't surprise you. Anyone who knows how government works already knows that something simple like a mere expiration of legal authority is little more than an inconvenience to a body like the U.S. Senate. This is especially the case when a canny old politician like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) runs things. What's actually going on here is that late in the evening of Sunday, May 31, the Senate successfully voted for cloture, which is a parliamentary maneuver designed to end debate on a topic. In this case the debate was about the USA Freedom Act, which had previously been turned down by the same Senators a few days earlier. By closing off debate the Senate voted to move the Freedom Act ahead so that it can be voted on by the full Senate, which presumably could happen as soon as June 2. But before the Senate can vote on the USA Freedom Act, it must first deal with a stack of amendments filed by McConnell. Those amendments would give the NSA anywhere from six months to a year to wind down the phone record data collection process.
In the meantime, the intelligence community and the phone companies would get together on the processes necessary to allow phone companies to store the same data that the NSA is now collecting. Once that data is stored, the various intelligence services would be required to get a warrant before they could look at it.