By Associated Press and Francesca Chambers For Dailymail.com 16:11 02 Jun 2015, updated 13:24 03 Jun 2015
- Senate finally votes for USA Freedom Act after Rand Paul filibustered renewing the Patriot Act on Sunday
- 67-32 vote means president will be able to sign it within hours and let NSA go back to keeping all American phone records
- New law lets it do that for next six months then brings in new system to have phone firms keep records and agencies use warrants to inspect them
- Privacy versus security battle was prompted by disclosure of program by Edward Snowden, the fugitive ex-spy now in Putin's Russia
- Intelligence officials warned about losing 'integral' tools to hunt for spies and terrorists
The National Security Agency will start retaining records of every American telephone call within hours after Senate finally vote in favor of mass surveillance.
The Senate voted 67-32 in favor of the USA Freedom Act which will let the NSA keep records and inspect them without a warrant for the next six months, before introducing a new system with more judicial scrutiny.
The president said he would sign the bill 'as soon as I get it'.
But the measure left lawmakers bitterly divided, with Rand Paul, the Republican libertarian who filibustered the new law on Sunday, angrily attacked from some on his own side - while attempts by majority leader Mitch McConnell to water down the provisions for scrutiny of the NSA also failed.
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Vote: Republican Majority Leader of the U.S. Senate Mitch McConnell walks to the Senate floor for a procedural vote on the surveillance bill, known as the 'USA Freedom Act,' in the US Capitol.
Loser: Rand Paul had stood against the bill in any form, saying that any data surveillance is an attack on civil liberties. But he was defeated 67-32
Senators first voted to curtail debate, ending Paul's filibuster, then rejected McConnell and Richard Burr's attempts to give the NSA a year for its new program to take shape among other amendments.
The vote ends days in which intelligence officials said they had lost 'integral' tools to hunt for spies and terrorists. The White House has said that federal agencies need the mass surveillance provision and two others that sunset on Sunday to keep Americans 'safe.'
Kentucky Senator Paul - who opposed all legislation giving the NSA the authority to keep reviewing Americans' phone records for ties to terrorists - says the program is a violation of the Fourth Amendment.
The bill had passed the House overwhelmingly already, opening the way for it to be signed as early as tonight by the president.
Paul, who doesn't believe it goes far enough, objected Monday, for the second day in a row, to an attempt by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to call for an early vote. But he couldn't stop the Senate from moving it to the floor for formal consideration this morning.
Both Republicans and Democrats in the House and Senate had urged their colleagues in the upper chamber not to amend their bill, saying any changes could imperil its passage.
'If the Senate changes the underlying bill in any way, it must go back to the House for its consideration, and there are no guarantees that it will pass the new bill,' Pat Leahy, the ranking member on the Senate's Judiciary Committee said in a statement this afternoon.
'Let us have no more unnecessary delay or political brinksmanship. It is time to do our jobs for the American people – to protect their privacy and maintain our national security. Now is not the time to seek unnecessary changes to this bill.'
Kevin McCarthy of California, the House Majority Leader, had also said that changes contemplated by the Senate would create additional challenges to final passage in the House.
'The best way to make sure America is protected is for the Senate to pass the USA Freedom Act,' he said.
Rand Paul talks with a reporter as he leaves the Capitol following his address to the Senate in Washington on Sunday. He viciously fought for the program to expire permanently, giving a 10-hour speech recently against it
During a closed-door House GOP meeting Tuesday morning, several members expressed deep concerns about planned Senate amendments to the bill, according to a leadership aide who spoke to AP and declined to be named because he was not authorized to be quoted publicly.
Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin, a co-author of the House bill, called the changes a 'poison pill,' during the meeting the aide said.
Republican Senator John Barrasso attended the meeting to represent Senate leadership and indicated that the message was received, the aide said.
The GOP's top vote counter argued on the floor today, however, that 'the Senate should not be a rubber stamp for the House or vice versa.'
He further opined that he didn't understand why the Senate is
'trying to fix a system that is not broken because there is absolutely no documented abuse.'
'There has been so much misrepresentation about what this so-called metadata program has done,' he said. 'I think that’s one of the reasons we find ourselves here today.'
Oversight of the NSA's bulk data program is 'absolutely rigorous,' he said and comes from all three branches of government. 'It’s not a matter of trust.'
The amendments, proposed by Senator Richard Burr, the North Carolina Republican who chairs the intelligence committee, were designed by Senate leadership to win quick House approval, but in fact failed entirely to be approved.
One had required the director of national intelligence to certify that the NSA can effectively search records if they're held by the phone companies, as the law requires.
Another would have required the phone companies to notify the government if they change their policy on how long they hold the records.
A third, to extend the transition from six months to 12 months, to come into compliance promises to be controversial. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said it is needed because Obama administration officials have said they are not sure the new system will work.
But Mike Rogers, the NSA director, has said six months is sufficient.
On Monday, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the White House, too, opposes adding any amendments in the Senate to the House-passed bill and said the six months outlined in it is enough time for the NSA to make the transition.
Burr begged his colleagues this afternoon to 'show some reason' and extend the deadline by six months to 'make sure that the telephone companies are ready.'
'The terrorists aren’t going away. America is still their target. No matter what we say on this floor we’re still in the cross-hairs of their terrorist acts,' he said, according to The Guardian .
Pen at ready: President Obama, pictured at the White House today, said he would sign the new bill as soon as he receives it, allowing the NSA to resume bulk phone record collection immediately
Asked today if the president would veto the final bill if Senate amendments get the House's backing, particularly one that would declassify decisions made by the secret court that would be authorized to issue the NSA warrants to review batches of data, Earnest would not go that far.
He said that 'efforts to water down the civil liberties reforms' in the current bill are 'contrary to the kinds of values' that the president has advocated for.
But Earnest did not issue a veto threat. 'They should just do the bare minimum,' he said of the Senate, and 'pass this bipartisan piece of legislation.'
In the end, that was irrelevant as the bill passed in the form the White House favored.
Congressman Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House intelligence committee, accused Senate Republicans of engaging in 'the politics of saving face,' adding that the amendments 'may tank the USA Freedom Act in the House.'
Whatever the outcome of today's votes, the last two days in Congress have made this much clear: The NSA will ultimately be out of the business of collecting and storing American calling records.
While Congress debated, the law authorizing the collection expired at midnight Sunday. The NSA stopped gathering the records from phone companies hours before the deadline. Other post-9/11 surveillance provisions considered more effective than the phone-data collection program also lapsed, leading intelligence officials to warn of critical gaps.
This turn of events is a defeat for McConnell, the Senate leader, who had aggressively pushed for a full reauthorization of the NSA's spying powers, without reforms.
The debacle was a victory for Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor who disclosed the calling records collection in 2013. He's now living in Moscow under the protection of its president, Vladimir Putin, having fled U.S. prosecution for disclosing classified information.
Still, the USA Freedom Act will hardly count as a thrashing for the NSA, Snowden's former employer.
NSA officials, including former director Keith Alexander, have long said they had no problem with ending their collection of phone records, as long as they can continue to search the data held by the companies, which the legislation allows them to do.
And the USA Freedom Act doesn't address the vast majority of Snowden revelations, which concern NSA mass surveillance of global internet traffic that often sweeps in American communication.
Two former senior NSA officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they did not want to discuss the matter publicly, said that if the USA Freedom Act is the central congressional response to the Snowden revelations, the NSA will have emerged almost unscathed, at least legally.
The legal lapse affected not only the NSA's ability to collect domestic phone records in bulk. It also meant a halt in the FBI's authority to gather business records in terrorism and espionage investigations, and to more easily eavesdrop on a suspect who is discarding cellphones to avoid surveillance.