The Senate on Tuesday revived three surveillance provisions of the Patriot Act that had expired early Monday because of Senate discord.
The legislation, the USA Freedom Act, was approved two weeks ago in the House. President Barack Obama was to sign the Senate-House package today.
One Patriot Act provision renewed under the bill was a variation of the phone-records spy program that National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden disclosed in 2013.
Here is a look at the three renewed provisions:
The "business records" section enabled the NSA's bulk telephone metadata program. It grants the government powers to seize most any record, even banking and phone records, by getting a warrant from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Court. The nation's spies must assert that the records are "relevant" to a terrorism investigation to get the warrant from the secret court.
Under the new legislation, however, the bulk phone metadata stays with the telecoms and is removed from the hands of the NSA. It can still be accessed with the FISA Court's blessing as long as the government asserts that it has a reasonable suspicion that the phone data of a target is relevant to a terror investigation and that at least one party to the call is overseas. As we've repeatedly stated, the Constitution's Fourth Amendment standard of probable cause does not apply. The metadata includes phone numbers of all parties in a call, numbers of calling cards, time and length of calls, and the international mobile subscriber identity (ISMI) of mobile calls.
The second provision revived Tuesday concerns roving wiretaps. Spies may tap a terror suspect's communications without getting a renewed FISA Court warrant, even as a suspect jumps from one device to the next. The FISA Court need not be told who is being targeted when issuing a warrant.
The third spy tool renewed is called "lone wolf" in spy jargon. It allows for roving wiretaps. However, the target of wiretaps does not have to be linked to a foreign power or terrorism.