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NSA Now Needs a Warrant: Senate Passes NSA Reform

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WASHINGTON, DC – It’s a done deal. The Senate approved a bill Tuesday to reform the National Security Agency’s domestic surveillance programs. The move ends a drawn-out showdown on Capitol Hill that saw counterterrorism provisions expire.

The vote was 67 to 32.

The bill, which passed the House nearly three weeks ago, now heads to President Barack Obama, who has pledged to sign the bill.

His signature will ultimately end the government’s indiscriminate collection of millions of Americans’ phone metadata, requiring the government obtain a targeted warrant to access the data instead.

“It’s historical. It’s the first major overhaul of government surveillance in decades,” said Sen. Patrick Leahy, the top Democratic sponsor of the reform measure called the USA Freedom Act.

The legislation requires the government obtain a targeted warrant to collect phone metadata from telecommunications companies, makes the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (known as the FISA court) which reviews those warrant requests more transparent and reauthorizes Patriot Act provisions that lapsed early Monday.

Senate passage on Tuesday came only after members defeated a series of amendments pushed by Senate Republican leaders they said would toughen the House version.

That move drew heavy fire from supporters of the current bill and from GOP House leadership, who warned the proposed changes wouldn’t pass muster in the House.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell conceded Thursday before the vote that those efforts were “an uphill battle.”

“We were not going to simply rollover and accept the House bill without debating it and attempting to amend it,” McConnell said Tuesday afternoon. “There are a number of us who feel very strongly that this is a significant weakening of the tools that were put in place after 9/11.”