The legal authority for the bulk telephone metadata program Edward Snowden disclosed is set to expire at the stroke of midnight on Monday. But there are lesser known Patriot Act surveillance measures also set to sunset at that time unless the Senate acts quickly.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican of Kentucky, has ordered the Senate to session on Sunday in an 11th-hour bid to salvage the Patriot Act. Unless lawmakers approve extending those provisions under the guise of the USA Freedom Act—which has already passed the House—all three surveillance powers will be no more.
President Barack Obama is expected to sign the act if it passes the Senate. And even if it does, the House’s measure removes the bulk telephone metadata from the hands of the National Security Agency and lets it rest with the telecoms. The government could still search the metadata with a warrant from a secret court, as long as the nation’s spies articulate a reasonable suspicion that the phone data is relevant to a terror investigation. The Fourth Amendment’s probable cause standard does not apply to searching the metadata that includes phone numbers of both parties in a call, calling card numbers, the length and time of the calls, and the international mobile subscriber identity (ISMI) number for mobile callers.
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