Technically, three key provisions of the Patriot Act governing what data the NSA can collect and how expired tonight after Rand Paul bested Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell at his own procedural game. Whether the NSA will actually stop while Congress attempts to pass a new bill is apparently another story.
The provisions enabling the NSA to listen in, contained in the original 2006 Patriot Act legislation, expired Monday morning without any backup plans in place. But according to the Times, the NSA has other options.
The expiration of three key provisions of the Patriot Act means that, for now, the N.S.A. will no longer collect newly created logs of Americans’ phone calls in bulk. It also means that the F.B.I. cannot invoke the Patriot Act to obtain, for new investigations, wiretap orders that follow a suspect who changes phones, wiretap orders for a “lone wolf” terrorism suspect not linked to a group, or court orders to obtain business records relevant to an investigation.
However, the Justice Department may invoke a so-called grandfather clause to keep using those powers for investigations that had started before June 1, and there are additional workarounds investigators may use to overcome the lapse in the authorizations.
The Senate is now reportedly reconsidering a bill passed by the House—the USA Freedom Act—that would have the phone companies store the data and essentially require the NSA to obtain a court order from a secret court. They’re expected to pass the legislation on “Tuesday or Wednesday.”
Paul managed to force the expiration by invoking a Senate rule allowing for 30 hours of debate, over the objections of many senior Republicans. Rand ultimately won’t have any effect on the data gathering program, but he did manage to really piss one old man off: “I’ve said on many occasions that I believe he would be the worst candidate we could put forward,” John McCain reportedly declared Sunday night.