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June 3, 2015

Congress Cuts the Line on NSA Data Collection

The Senate passed the USA Freedom Act Tuesday without amendment, and Barack Obama signed it, curbing the NSA’s mass collection of every American’s phone records. While it’s a victory for privacy advocates, work remains in ensuring that the U.S. government respects the Fourth Amendment. Instead of scraping up records on every call in the U.S., the act dictates that private phone companies will keep the records and the government can request the information. The Senate’s 67-32 vote split the Republican Party between its leadership and the more libertarian-leaning lawmakers. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell complained, “There are a number of us who feel very strongly that this is a significant weakening of the tools that were put in place in the wake of 9/11 to protect the country.” But Rep. James Sensenbrenner, the author of the Patriot Act, said some of those “tools” (i.e., mass data collection) were never meant to be given. Notably, Sen. Rand Paul, perhaps the most prominent advocate for NSA reform, voted against the USA Freedom Act, saying it didn’t go far enough. With Sen. Ron Wyden, Paul proposed nine amendments that would have required the government to offer greater justification before it spied on a citizen. For over a decade, the country has been in a constant state of war, allowing an erosion of Fourth Amendment rights because it feared a “lone-wolf terrorist” attack or another 9/11. But a state of fear is not a mark of a free people.

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