PATRIOT Act expires — now what?

For the first time since its passage in 2001, Congress has declined to renew section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act, which provided for mass, warrantless surveillance — now what happens?

The first thing to remember is that Patriot 215 is just one of many forms of legal cover that US spooks use to keep the whole world — including Americans — under constant surveillance. Executive Order 12333 and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act both grant spies the power to conduct hair-raising, unconstitutional and unconscionable surveillance. Even if we can keep 215 from rising from the grave, these have got to go, too (here's more about that).

But will 215 come back? America's spooks, their friends in Congress, and the military contractors who make fat bank off of constant spying sure hope so, as the Electronic Frontier Foundation reminds us:

All indications are that this lapse will be temporary and that the Senate will soon pass the USA FREEDOM Act, which has small but important improvements over the now-lapsed section 215 and important additional transparency to the secret FISA court. USA Freedom passed the House with overwhelming support. 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.

Senate rules allow a final vote, which only needs a simple majority of 51, to occur early Tuesday morning. It's not clear whether any amendments will be offered and we'll keep watching on EFFLive and keep you posted as this saga continues.

But tonight, this is a historic baby step. We should all pause and for us at EFF who've been fighting mass surveillance since 2006, take a moment to smile.

Section 215 Expires—For Now
[Mark Jaycox and Nadia Kayyali/EFF]