Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

NSA Winds Down Once-Secret Phone-Records Collection Program

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

NSA Winds Down Once-Secret Phone-Records Collection Program

Article excerpt

WASHINGTON * The National Security Agency has begun winding down its collection and storage of American phone records after the Senate failed to agree on a path forward to change or extend the once-secret program ahead of its expiration at the end of the month.

Barring an 11th-hour compromise when the Senate returns to session May 31, a much-debated provision of the Patriot Act and some other lesser known surveillance tools will expire at midnight that day. The change also would have a major impact on the FBI, which uses the Patriot Act and the other provisions to gather records in investigations of suspected spies and terrorists.

In a chaotic scene in the wee hours Saturday, Senate Republicans blocked a bill known as the USA Freedom Act, which would have ended the NSA's bulk collection but preserved its ability to search the records held by phone companies on a case-by-case basis.

The bill was backed by President Barack Obama, House Republicans and the nation's top law enforcement and intelligence officials.

It fell just three votes short of the 60 needed for passage. All the "no" votes but one were cast by Republicans, some of whom said they thought the USA Freedom Act didn't go far enough to help the NSA maintain its capabilities.

If Senate Republican leaders were counting on extending law and continuing the negotiations, they miscalculated. Democrats and libertarian-minded Republicans refused to go along. A bill to grant a two-month extension of the law failed, and senators objected to each attempt by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to offer up a short term extension.

Sens. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., and Dick Durbin, D-Ill., supported allowing an up-or-down vote on a House-passed bill. Sens. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., and Roy Blunt, R-Mo., opposed it.

The four also split on party lines on a procedural vote that would allowed an up-or-down vote on a stopgap measure to extend three USA Patriot Act provisions that are not in permanent law. Blunt and Kirk voted yes on that procedural vote, but McCaskill and Durbin voted no, and it came up 15 votes short.

The failure to act means the NSA will immediately begin curtailing its searches of domestic phone records for connections to international terrorists. …

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