Section 215 of the Patriot Act expired last night

A small, perhaps temporary, but important victory has been won by privacy advocates today, as the US Senate has allowed three sections of the USA PATRIOT Act to expire.

Among these is the infamous Section 215, which allowed the NSA to collect phone records of millions of innocent Americans, and the CIA and the FBI to collect other types of data (financial data, companies’ Internet business recors, etc.)

The other two are the “lone wolf” and the “roving wiretap” provision. The first allowed federal and law enforcement agencies to perform surveillance of suspected terrorists without ties to terrorist groups (and has apparently never been invoked), and the second one allowed them to track suspected terrorists no matter how many cell phones they use.

It’s good to note that there is a clause in the Patriot Act that allows the NSA to continue with the investigations they have already started.

“Section 215 now—at least temporarily—reverts to its pre-Patriot Act form, which doesn’t permit any collection of financial or communications records, and requires the Government to provide ‘specific and articulable facts’ supporting a reason to believe that the target is an agent of a foreign power,” noted EFF’s Mark Jaycox and Nadia Kayyali. “This is a good thing. And of course, the government still has plenty of tools to investigate national security cases.”

Attorney Rebecca Herold recently shared some very good points on why there should be no bulk phone metadata collection, including the fact that it simply is not useful for catching terrorists.

The attention now switches to the USA FREEDOM Act, which, according to the EFF, “has small but important improvements over the now-lapsed section 215 and important additional transparency to the secret FISA court.”

USA FREEDOM was shot down earlier this month by the US Senate, but on Sunday the Senate voted to limit debate on the act, and according to Senate rules, there will be a final vote on it on Tuesday morning.

“EFF is neutral on USA FREEDOM—we think that Congress can do much better and should, but we’re still now in a much better place than we’ve been since the 1970s with regard to Congressional action reining in the NSA,” Jaycox and Kayyali added.

If the USA FREEDOM act is ultimately passed, phone call records will still be collected by the phone companies, and intelligence agencies will have access to them if they can prove to a court that they need to.

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