Senate Passes Patriot Act Replacement

by Patrick Brennan

The Senate approved a House bill this afternoon that replaces one of the most controversial provisions of the Patriot Act, the Section 215 metadata-gathering program Edward Snowden revealed, with a more constrained program that aims to offer the intelligence community the same abilities.

The bill, the USA FREEDOM Act, manages to have a more ridiculous acronym than the PATRIOT Act and includes a few measures to strengthen the intelligence community’s ability to track terror suspects (for instance, it eases the transition between tracking them within the U.S. and abroad, activities that require different legal approval). Some privacy advocates thought the bill didn’t go nearly far enough — it will still allow broad requests for metadata, just not as broad or as easily as under the original Patriot Act — but some hawkish legislators (and NR’s editors) argued that the replacement program will be less effective without doing anything important for civil liberties.

Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas, for instance, voted against the bill and issued this statement today:

Congress should have reauthorized the expiring provisions of the Patriot Act because they saved Americans lives and protected Americans rights. Instead, the so-called “FREEDOM Act” would replace an effective, Constitutional intelligence collection system with an untested hypothetical one. Worse, it returns us to a dangerous pre-9/11 mindset at a time when America is still at war with radical Islam.

There’s no doubt it constrains the NSA’s capabilities, but the Snowden revelations could also have produced much more dramatic curtailment of the intelligence community than this bill amounts to.

The bill is modeled on some recommendations made by the president’s intelligence task force, convened after the Snowden revelations; he’s supported it and is expected to sign it.

UPDATE: President Obama signed the bill tonight:

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