The US government can no longer spy on every US citizen at once

Rand Paul, standing in the way.
Rand Paul, standing in the way.
Image: Reuters/Mike Theiler
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The US government’s ability to collect information on American citizens was substantially curtailed on midnight Sunday, after an extension of the Patriot Act expired before the US Congress passed a replacement bill aimed at reforming it.

What’s expiring: The Patriot Act extension, signed into law in 2011. This includes the controversial Section 215, which, as the ACLU explains it, “allows the [Federal Bureau of Investigation] to force anyone at all—including doctors, libraries, bookstores, universities, and Internet service providers—to turn over records on their clients or customers.” Because of this expiration, the National Security Agency and others can also no longer collect this information, including US citizens’ phone calls, in bulk. In addition, agencies abilities to conduct roving wiretaps, and spy on so-called “lone wolf” terrorists not connected to any organization are curbed.

Who is responsible. Republican presidential candidate Rand Paul, a longtime privacy advocate, dug in his heels and said he would refuse to allow a replacement bill to be adopted in time to replace the now-expired parts of the Act. In a special Sunday session of the Senate, he appeared to harass his fellow Republicans while they were speaking.

National security hawks and Senate leader Mitch McConnell “badly underestimated the shift in the national mood,” which the Democrats and Libertarians understand, The New York Times reported.

What happens next. The replacement bill, named, without apparent irony, the “USA Freedom Act,” is still expected to pass as early as this week. While it still gives widespread information gathering powers to US security agencies, it will prohibit them from collecting American citizens’ phone records and other information in bulk, limiting such collecting to specific searches.