Earlier this week, the Justice Department said that if there was no extension of the Patriot Act Section 215 in place, they’d start “winding down” the NSA surveillance program this weekend. Bluff or no, they’d better start doing so, because there will be no extension.
The Senate went into recess this afternoon after a pair of procedural votes aimed at extending the program both fell short of the 60 needed. With both they and the House in recess, there is almost no chance of a renewal of 215 before June 1, when it formally expires.
The first vote, aimed at an unamended version of the USA Freedom Act, which the House had already passed, fell short by just three votes, at 57-42. The act was a watered down reform bill that had been so watered down many argued it actually enhanced government surveillance authority.
The second vote, a two-month extension of the Section 215 aimed at just buying some time to get around filibusters and threats of filibusters by Sen. Rand Paul (R – KY) and others, also failed 54-45. The House had not voted on this before recess, and Rep. Justin Amash (R – MI) claimed assurances they would not attempt to rush through a recess voice vote over the weekend even if the Senate passed it.
The NSA telephone surveillance program allowed them to collect “metadata” about Americans’ phone calls, though earlier this month an Appeals Court ruled that Section 215 did not actually allow them to do this. In spite of ruling the program illegal, the court did not order it halted, and everyone was still presenting a 215 renewal as de facto approval for its continuation. Without even that renewal, it is hard to envision the administration justifying its continuation at all.