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US lawmakers let bulk data-collection powers expire

NSA’s mass surveillance programmes on hold as Congress considers alternative measures

Law and regulation, Privacy, Security threats, Government

The US Senate has voted to replace controversial sections of the US Patriot Act with alternative measures, following a debate in which Congressional hawks argued that the current clauses were vital to national security.

It is two years since NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden leaked sensitive documents about US spy agencies' clandestine gathering of communications metadata. Since then, two US judges and a number of high-ranking US officials have criticised Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which was designed to authorise the surveillance.

US opinion on Snowden is split, with some denouncing him as a traitor and others believing his actions were vital to expose "unconstitutional" spy programmes. Snowden remains in Russia on a temporary visa, a fugitive from US prosecutors who want him tried on espionage charges. One high-profile Snowden proponent is Apple-co-founder Steve Wozniak, who last month lauded him as a "total hero" in an interview with ITP.net.

According to a report from Reuters, one possible replacement for Section 215 is the USA Freedom Act, which yesterday passed the Senate 77-17 after making it past the House of Representatives on May 13 by 338-88. If the Freedom Act becomes law, it would end bulk collection for good, replacing it with more targeted surveillance. Data would be held by telecoms providers instead of the government and agencies would have to petition courts for access.