The bulk collection of phone data conducted by the NSA ended June 2 with the passing of the USA Freedom Act.
The bill limits federal intelligence powers by requiring them to petition a special federal court for permission to get access to the data held by phone companies. Previously, the NSA collected and stored all phone record data.
The bill, which earlier passed in the House 338-88, passed the Senate 67-32 just a day after several key aspects of the Patriot Act, which had authorized the bulk collection of phone record data, failed to be reauthorized by its expiration date.
Opposition to the reauthorization was led in the Senate by Republican presidential-candidate Senator Rand Paul, who took to the floor last week in an 11-hour filibuster condemning the overreach of government surveillance. That opposition put Paul and his bipartisan mix of supporters at odds with Republican Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell and other hawkish Republicans, who maintained that any pull back in government surveillance power would put U.S. national security at risk.
Republican House Speaker John Boehner, Democrats in both houses of Congress, some libertarian-leaning Republicans, as well as the White House all supported the USA Freedom Act. Paul did not vote in favor of the act.
For some lawmakers, the USA Freedom Act didn’t go far enough, leaving too much surveillance power in the hands of federal intelligence authorities.
Calls for pulling back on government surveillance powers enacted after 9/11 by the Patriot Act have grown in the past couple of years in the wake of revelations made by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden about the extent of government surveillance authorized by the act. Government data-collection methods revealed by Snowden included unrestricted tapping into major Internet provider and website metadata, the bulk collection of phone data and email data, and even spying on the leaders of other countries.