Intelligence agencies in the U.S. won’t be able to use some of their highly sophisticated spying programs on Americans as easily as before, as certain portions of the Patriot Act have just expired on Sunday just before midnight, after the U.S. Senate decided not to extend them.
The Senate met in a rare Sunday session to discuss legislation that would extend the powers of the NSA and other agencies, but ultimately voted to advance reform legislation that would replace current spy practices, Reuters reports.
Even though intelligence agencies can’t collect and search phone records now that key provisions of the Patriot Act have expired, the phone records program might be resurrected in future legislation. The Senate voted 77 to 17 in favor of reform legislation, currently called the USA Freedom Act.
The vote is seen as a partial victory for Barack Obama, who has been pushing for reform following growing public concern regarding privacy after the many Edward Snowden leaks. The former NSA contractor stole and released a huge cache of internal NSA documents detailing advanced spying programs that let the agency gather impressive amounts of data on individuals, including Americans who are not suspects.
Under the Patriot Act’s provisions, U.S. law enforcement would be able to easily tap the phones of individuals suspected of terrorism, target suspects with no connection to specific terrorist groups, and seize suspects’ personal and business records.
The government can still continue collecting information related to any ongoing foreign intelligence investigation that began before the May 31st deadline.