After today’s failed Senate votes on extending the Patriot Act Section 215, they joined the House in a week-long recess. There’s a possibility of another vote attempt of the evening of Sunday, May 31.
Problem is, the law itself expires Monday, June 1, and with the likelihood that they won’t have any legal cover at all that morning, the administration says it has already begun winding down the NSA telephone surveillance program.
The Justice Department had talked about the shut-down of the NSA program if they didn’t get the extension this week, and while at the time many saw it as a political ploy, the holiday recesses mean they’re obliged to follow through on dismantling the scheme.
Senate leaders downplayed the seriousness of the moves made so far, calling them a stunt for the sake of lobbying, and saying that the actual metadata database won’t begin being shut down until 4 pm on the 31st.
The White House claimed Section 215 allowed them the bulk collection of Americans’ telephone metadata, something they’d been doing for years before that fact was leaked by Edward Snowden. Since then, a US Appeals Court ruled even Section 215 didn’t grant this broad power.
Despite the court ruling, the program has kept going, and officials in both the administration and Congress have treated the extension of Section 215 as a de facto extension of the NSA program.
In the end, however, American opposition to the surveillance state appears to have kept just enough of the Senate away from the yes votes to extend Section 215, even with the watered-down reforms offered in the USA Freedom Act. Whether the administration will follow through on ending the program remains to be seen, but absent an act of Congress, it’s hard to see how they can avoid it.