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Senate Republicans Block USA Freedom Act NSA Surveillance Reform Bill

Sen. Mitch McConnell was instrumental in scuttling the USA Freedom Act. (Photo: Gage Skidmore)

Sen. Mitch McConnell was instrumental in scuttling the USA Freedom Act. (Photo: Gage Skidmore)

Senate Republicans on Tuesday rejected a measure designed to reform the once-secret National Security Agency program under which records of billions of Americans’ phone calls are collected.

The USA Freedom Act, drafted by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT),sought to end the NSA’s massive data collection of nearly all US phone data. The measure failed to garner the 60 votes necessary to end debate and move to consideration. The vote was 58-42, with four Republicans and two independents joining Democrats, all but one of whom supported the bill.

The proposed bill would have permitted continued surveillance, but would have required the NSA to obtain a new type of court order to quickly obtain only records linked to terrorism suspects by two or fewer degrees of separation.

The measure had the support of President Barack Obama. Reform Government Surveillance, a coalition of tech companies including Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Yahoo and LinkedIn, also backed the failed bill.

Sen. Leahy blamed Republican scare tactics for the bill’s defeat.

“Fomenting fear stifles serious debate and constructive solutions,” said Leahy. “This nation deserves more than that.”

“Obviously I’m disappointed by tonight’s vote,” Leahy said after the vote, adding that he would “not to give up the fight”.

“I will continue to fight to preserve our constitution and our rights as Americans,” Leahy vowed.

Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) staunchly and successfully led opposition to the bill.

“This is the worst possible time to be tying our hands behind our backs,” argued McConnell, asserting that the NSA surveillance program is a vital tool in the fight against terrorism.

“God forbid we wake up tomorrow and ISIL is in the United States,” said Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), referring to the Islamic State group which has been targeted with air strikes by a US-led coalition in Iraq and Syria.

The bill followed revelations by former NSA employee-turned-whistleblower Edward Snowden that the NSA was systematically collecting telephone metadata from telecommunications companies, as well as spying on countless Americans’ social media profiles, foreign individuals, corporations and even the Pope and heads of state and high-ranking government officials in many nations, including close US allies.

The NSA surveillance program was initiated following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks against the United States. In 2006, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court secretly took control of the program and began issuing orders to phone companies under the highly controversial USA Patriot Act.

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