Parts of Patriot Act Expired: No More Telephone Data Collection?

By Christopher Coble, Esq. on June 02, 2015 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

After the 9/11 attacks in 2001, Congress passed the USA Patriot Act giving the government wide power to conduct surveillance in search of terrorist suspects.

However, some of those powers ended Sunday night after the bill lapsed without an extension.

Here's what you need to know:

Lapsed Provisions

Don't panic. All the powers granted by the Patriot Act have not ended. Only three programs have lapsed.

The most recognizable provision is Section 215. Section 215 allowed the National Security Agency (NSA) to collect bulk telephone metadata. Metadata tells the NSA who made a call to whom, when the call was made, where the caller was, but not what was said during the call. The NSA officially shut this program down at 7:44 pm on Sunday night.

The second program involved "roving wiretaps." This program allows the FBI to track terrorism suspects who frequently switch cell phones without having to get a new warrant for each new cell phone.

The third program allows the government to monitor "lone wolf" suspects who haven't been tied to any terrorist groups.

Why the Lapse?

As authorized by the Patriot Act, these programs expired at midnight last Sunday.

The House of Representatives passed the USA Freedom Act last month to end the government's bulk collection of telephone metadata. However, the NSA would still be able to access metadata collected by private telecommunications companies. The NSA would have to get a warrant to get information on specific individuals and would not be able to collect data from millions of people. President Obama and Speaker of the House John Boehner both approved of this bill.

Despite the act's near unanimous passage in the House, many Senators are not convinced. Senator Rand Paul wants even stricter restrictions on the government's data collection programs.

As the expiration time for Section 215 of the Patriot Act approached, the Senate could not agree to vote on the USA Freedom Act.

Only Temporary?

However, the expiration is likely only temporary. The Senate will vote on the USA Freedom Act later this week and seems likely to pass the act.

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