USA Freedom Act Moves Forward in Senate, but Clash Over Amendments Could Complicate Progress

Mitch McConnell (Photo: Timothy D. Easley, AP)
Mitch McConnell (Photo: Timothy D. Easley, AP)

The Senate voted Tuesday to advance a bill to rein in the National Security Agency’s surveillance powers, but a clash over possible amendments to the bill threatened to derail the bipartisan legislation.

Senators voted 83-14 to move to a final vote on the USA Freedom Act, which is expected Tuesday after votes on amendments.

The bill would end the NSA’s bulk collection of the phone data of millions of Americans not suspected of any terrorist activity. Instead, phone companies would retain the data and the NSA could obtain targeted information about individuals with permission from a federal court. The bill would renew other provisions of the Patriot Act anti-terrorism law through 2019.

Three key provisions of the Patriot Act expired at midnight Sunday as the Senate continued to debate the legislation.

Senate security hawks, including Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr, R-N.C., initially opposed the USA Freedom Act and sought to renew the Patriot Act without changes through 2020. When it became clear that there was not enough support for that plan, the two leaders began offering amendments to the USA Freedom Act.

The proposed amendments include extending the period for the bulk phone collection program to wind down from six months to 12 months to give the NSA and phone companies more time to switch over the data collection to the phone companies. Another amendment would require telecommunications companies to give Congress six months’ notice if they intend to change their data retention procedures. A separate change would require the director of national intelligence to certify that the new data retention process is working.

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SOURCE: Erin Kelly
USA TODAY

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