June 1, 2015

Senate advances spy legislation but law will lapse

A bill to extend a controversial anti-terrorism surveillance tool cleared a key Senate hurdle Sunday evening, but not in time to prevent it from expiring at midnight.

The Senate voted 77-17 to bring the USA Freedom Act to the floor for debate. The bill would extend surveillance provisions of the Patriot Act with significant reforms aimed at ensuring privacy rights, including a ban on the practice of bulk domestic data collection by the National Security Agency.

Under the bill, only phone companies will collect that data, and they will only hold it for 18 months.

But thanks in large part to objections from Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., a staunch opponent of the spying law, Senate passage is at least days away. That means several sections of the USA Patriot Act will expire June 1, including the provision the National Security Agency interpreted to allow the unwarranted collection of phone and electronic data of Americans for the purposes of preventing terrorist attacks.

But Paul's objections are not the only sticking point.

The bill's outcome is complicated by amendments that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., wants to add to the bill, which already passed the House by an overwhelming bipartisan vote.

McConnell said the amendments "will attempt to ensure the program works as promised."

The bill moved ahead after falling three votes shy of the needed 60 vote threshold in a vote held last weekend.

It passed thanks in part to McConnell, who lifted his earlier opposition to the bill, but only reluctantly.

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