'Historic Tactical Win Against Surveillance' as USA Freedom Act Fails in Senate

In a move that is being hailed by civil liberties advocates as a victory for privacy rights, the U.S. Senate on Friday rejected the USA Freedom Act, a bill that sought to rein in the National Security Agency’s (NSA) spying powers but that would have reauthorized some of the most controversial provisions of the USA Patriot Act.

By a vote of 57-42, the Senate did not pass the bill that would have required 60 votes to move forward, which means that the NSA must start winding down its domestic mass surveillance program this week. The Senate also rejected a two-month extension of the existing program by 54-45, also short of the necessary 60 votes.

The Obama administration had previously warned Congress that if the Senate was unable to extend Section 215 of the Patriot Act by May 31, which the NSA leans on to justify its mass surveillance program, the government would need to launch its shutdown of the phone records collection operation ahead of time. With the U.S. House of Representatives already gone for Memorial Day holiday, the Senate had until this weekend to resolve its gridlock.

Section 215 is set to expire on June 1 absent congressional action.

The House voted in favor of the USA Freedom Act earlier this month.

Calling the vote a historic departure from the Patriot Act, “Sunsetting the Patriot Act is the biggest win for ending mass surveillance programs,” Tiffiniy Cheng, co-founder of Fight for the Future, a coalition of civil liberties and privacy rights organizations, said in response to the vote. “We are seeing history in the making and it was because the public stood up for our rights to freedom of expression and freedom of association—and there’s no turning back now.”

This was a “historic tactical win against surveillance,” Cheng added.

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