Section 215 has expired. At least for now. The law that the NSA used to authorize its collection of vast amounts of information about the telephone calls of ordinary Americans is no more. Even though it’s likely temporary, it’s a good thing and we should pause to celebrate a little. The calls and emails Congress received from people across the country and across the political spectrum changed the debate.
The Senate let three provisions of the Patriot Act expire: Section 215, the section the government uses to collect phone and other business records in bulk, the “Lone Wolf provision,” and the “roving wiretap” provision. Section 215 now—at least temporarily—reverts to its pre-Patriot Act form, which doesn’t permit any collection of financial or communications records, and requires the Government to provide “specific and articulable facts” supporting a reason to believe that the target is an agent of a foreign power.
This is a good thing. And of course, the government still has plenty of tools to investigate national security cases.
All indications are that this lapse will be temporary and that the Senate will soon pass the USA FREEDOM Act, which has small but important improvements over the now-lapsed section 215 and important additional transparency to the secret FISA court. USA Freedom passed the House with overwhelming support. EFF is neutral on USA Freedom—we think that Congress can do much better and should, but we’re still now in a much better place than we’ve been since the 1970s with regard to Congressional action reining in the NSA.
Senate rules allow a final vote, which only needs a simple majority of 51, to occur early Tuesday morning. It’s not clear whether any amendments will be offered and we’ll keep watching on EFFLive and keep you posted as this saga continues.
But tonight, this is a historic baby step. We should all pause and for us at EFF who’ve been fighting mass surveillance since 2006, take a moment to smile.