The US National Security Agency lost its authority to collect Americans' phone records in bulk, after a reformed bill was signed into law last night by Barack Obama.
The USA Freedom Act extends the government’s ability to collect large amounts of data, but with restrictions, and is the first piece of legislation to reform post 9/11 surveillance measures.
The bill, seen as a substitute for the Patriot Act, had been backed by President Barack Obama as a compromise addressing privacy concerns, while preserving a tool to protect the country from terror threats.
It ends a system exposed by former NSA contractor-turned-whistleblower Edward Snowden where the spy agency collected and searched records of phone calls looking for terrorism leads, but was not allowed to listen to their content.
After the Senate voted 67-32 on Tuesday to give final congressional approval to the bill, Obama used his Twitter account, @POTUS, to say he was glad it had passed. “I'll sign it as soon as I get it,” the tweet said.
The NSA will now be forced to request information through a court order instead of receiving quantities of data from telephone and internet companies.
The data will also be stored on telecom companies’ servers rather than government servers and any request must be specific to an individual entity – person, account or electronic device.
But key parts of the Patriot Act are included in the Freedom Act allowing the monitoring of “lone wolf” terror suspects – potential attackers not linked to foreign terror groups, even though US officials had admitted the powers have never been use.
Also, the Freedom Act keeps a provision allowing investigators to monitor travel and business records of individuals that according to law officers is more effective than bulk collection.
Along with the phone records program, two other domestic surveillance programs authorized under the 2001 USA Patriot Act have been shut down since Sunday.
Earlier this week, E&T reported that the Senate missed a deadline for the extension of the Patriot Act.
Once it became obvious that the extension was going to expire, senators voted 77-17 to move forward with the Freedom Act.
But the move angered many Republicans, who left the chamber en masse, as presidential hopeful Rand Paul had led a filibuster to stop the quick passage of the Freedom Act and blocking the extension of the Patriot Act.