Senate blocks NSA surveillance reform bill

A bill that would extend certain provisions of the Patriot Act to July 31 was also blocked

nsa national security agency
Credit: Stephen Sauer

The U.S. Senate voted early Saturday to block the USA Freedom Act, legislation that aimed to put an end to the bulk collection of telephone records by the National Security Agency.

It also voted down a bill that would extend to July 31 certain provisions of the Patriot Act, including Section 215, which provides the legal framework for the current NSA phone surveillance program.

The Senate, which adjourned Saturday for the Memorial Day weekend, will reconvene on May 31, when it will try to hammer out a deal ahead of the June 1 deadline when the Patriot Act provisions expire, unless reauthorized in the same or modified form by legislation.

The USA Freedom Act was blocked by the Senate in a 57-42 vote, falling three votes short of the 60-vote threshold required to proceed, while the bid to extend the Patriot Act provisions, proposed by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, also failed to cross that threshold.

The House of Representatives voted 338-88 last week to approve the USA Freedom Act. The legislation would leave telephone records in the hands of carriers, while allowing the NSA to continue to collect telephone and business records in a more targeted manner.


The National Security Agency headquarters is in Fort Meade, Maryland.

"The Senate will return one week from Sunday. With your help we can end illegal NSA spying once and for all," wrote Senator Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican, in a Twitter message. Earlier in the week, Paul engaged in a filibuster to block a vote on extending Section 215.

Several digital rights groups and some lawmakers have called on Congress to let Section 215 of the Patriot Act expire.

In high drama on the Senate floor, McConnell repeatedly tried to extend the June 1 deadline of the Patriot Act provisions to other dates in June, but was blocked, according to reports. The administration has indicated that the NSA will begin to unwind its program if there isn't appropriate legislation well ahead of the June 1 deadline.

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