At midnight on Sunday night, the National Security Agency’s surveillance program came to a halt after the Senate failed to approve a policy that would have kept the NSA running as usual until a new program was introduced, The New York Times reports.
This marks the first time the NSA’s surveillance tactics have been limited since the 2001 terror attacks that prompted them. The blow to the NSA’s powers followed a dramatic battle between two Kentucky legislators – Senator Mitch McConnell, who vowed to protect the surveillance program, and Senator Rand Paul, who called the program a violation of the Fourth Amendment.
The NSA’s powers will not, however, remain blunted indefinitely. The program’s halting is only temporary, until new legislation aimed to shorten the NSA’s reach makes it through Congress. The USA Freedom Act, which could pass this week, permanently bans bulk collection of telephone records and introduces other rules and transparency regarding surveillance programs.
Whistleblower Edward Snowden first exposed the NSA’s surveillance tactics in 2013, via journalists Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras. Writing for Greenwald’s online news source The Intercept, Dan Froomkin explained that the Freedom Act does not offer as much reform as government officials suggest. As Froomkin wrote, “That bill puts in place a replacement program that leaves phone records in the possession of the telecom companies until the NSA comes with a specific request. It also reauthorizes two other expiring provisions of the Patriot Act, one of which makes it easier to track suspects who frequently change phones; the other, which has never actually been used, allows the government to begin surveillance on individuals without asserting a connection to a specific terrorist group.”
So for Snowden supporters, victory may be short-lived.