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U.S. Senate passes spy agency’s surveillance reform bill

The U.S. Senate on Tuesday passed the USA Freedom Act, a domestic surveillance reform bill that would extend the bulk phone metadata collection program of the National Security Agency (NSA) for another six months, after which the practice will be ended.

The 67-32 vote for the bill came more than 36 hours after three parts of the Patriot Act expired Monday, forcing the NSA to wind down its bulk collection of U.S. phone data.

According to the USA Freedom Act, the NSA’s controversial bulk phone metadata collection program, which expired Monday, will continue for another six months. After the six-month transition period, the U.S. government will no longer be allowed to store any phone metadata of the U.S. public. Instead, phone companies will take on the responsibility of storing phone metadata, and federal agencies will be required to get a court warrant before accessing phone metadata of certain case.

As the House of Representatives passed the bill with a 338-88 vote last month, the Senate vote helps advance the bill to the White House, where President Barack Obama has promised to sign it into law. The measure will replace a program in which NSA harvests data about Americans’ phone calls with a more targeted system.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell suffered a political criticism during the bruising fight over the measure. He and other hawkish Republican senators opposed the bill even after the House approved it in a broad, bipartisan vote last month.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid lambasted McConnell for the lapse in Patriot Act provisions, arguing it would not have happened if the GOP leader hadn’t spent so much time on trade legislation in the previous month.

Approval of the surveillance reform bill in Congress, which voted to affirmatively rein in the nation’s surveillance powers, is considered as a significant victory for critics of the NSA program that had been in place since shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

The bill, which came after almost two years to the day when NSA contractor Edward Snowden first revealed the existence of the program to the world, will end the NSA’s collection of phone ” metadata” and also limit other types of data collection, as well as add new transparency measures and put in place a new expert panel on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which oversees intelligence activities but currently only hears the government’s side of an argument.

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