U.S. Cuts Back Spying Programs — For Now

Photo: Courtesy of NSA.
The U.S. government has slightly less power to collect our phone records and other information today, after the Senate failed to pass a bill to reauthorize a number of spying programs, allowing the Patriot Act to expire at midnight Monday morning. But, don't get too comfortable with the prospect of more privacy; Senators are expected to vote later this week to revive the measures, and even with some reforms added, agencies like the NSA will still have expansive communication-monitoring powers. Despite hyperbolic warnings from government officials about the potential consequences of ending mass surveillance, as Reuters reported, a break of a few days will have little effect. And, the government didn't halt all of its spying activities at 11:59 p.m. Sunday; investigations that began before the deadline will continue. The debate over U.S. surveillance of American citizens, and whether collecting and keeping massive amounts of data can actually help prevent terrorism, has been raging since former NSA contractor Edward Snowden revealed a series of programs that passed in the wake of 9/11. President Obama has pushed hard to have the measures renewed. Of course, as the ACLU pointed out in a statement, "The government has numerous other tools, including administrative and grand jury subpoenas, which would enable it to gather necessary information." Republican presidential candidate Senator Rand Paul spent much of Sunday trying to prevent any Patriot Act legislation from passing; he and democrat Ron Wyden of Oregon have been outspoken opponents of the surveillance programs. In 2013, The Washington Post reported on five extremely ugly cases of NSA workers using government spying tools to keep tabs on love interests — solid examples of the abuses this kind of legislation makes possible.

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