US Senate blocks House approved bill to eliminate phone data collection

US Senate blocks House approved bill to eliminate phone data collection

[JURIST] The US Senate [official website] on Saturday blocked a House passed bill that would end the mass collection of phone records by the National Security Agency (NSA) [official website] in an after midnight vote of 57-42. Supporters of the measure were unable to secure the 60 votes [AP report] needed to move forward, and no action was taken by the Senate to extend or replace the program which is set to expire [WP report] at the end of May. The bill, titled the USA Freedom Act [text], was approved [JURIST report] by the US House of Representatives [official website] on Wednesday by a vote of 338 to 88 and largely extended the USA Patriot Act [text, PDF]. Despite the White House’s support [JURIST report] for the bill and the elimination of phone data collection, the compromise legislation was rejected by the Senate. Also rejected were several short term extensions to the USA Patriot Act. The matter will be revisited by the Senate on Sunday, May 31, before the program’s midnight expiration, and whatever the Senate approves must be passed by the House.

Several US lawmakers have called [JURIST report] for a review of the government’s surveillance activity in light of reports revealing phone and Internet monitoring. The focus on government surveillance policies comes largely as a result of revelations [JURIST backgrounder] by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden [JURIST news archive], who allegedly leaked classified documents, including PRISM and UPSTREAM, in 2013, exposing the scope and breadth of NSA surveillance activities. Several human rights groups have taken legal action challenging the NSA. In March rights groups filed a lawsuit [JURIST report] in federal court against the NSA alleging that one of the NSA’s mass surveillance programs violates privacy rights and threatens free communication. The plaintiffs include the American Civil Liberties Union, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and Wikimedia. The US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled [opinion, PDF] earlier this month that the Patriot Act does not authorize [JURIST report] the NSA to collect millions of Americans’ phone records.