On Tuesday the U.S. Senate passed the USA Freedom Act, a bill that ends the authorization of NSA collection of millions of Americans' phone records, without any amendments. This is the first major legislative reform of surveillance in a decade following the Patriot Act's implemented counterterrorism measures after the 9/11 attacks and two years following the revelations of government phone surveillance programs by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.
After a Senate vote of 67-32 passed the bill, giving it overwhelming congressional approval, President Barack Obama used his personal twitter account, @POTUS, to express support for its passing. The tweet read: "Glad the Senate finally passed the USA Freedom Act. It protects civil liberties and our national security. I'll sign it as soon as I can get it."
In addition to ending the NSA phone records collection program, the USA Freedom Act also restores records storage responsibilities to private telecommunications companies. Government security agencies will be required to obtain a targeted warrant in order to gain access to phone metadata, a request that must be approved by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance (FISA) Court.
Shortly before signing the bill on Tuesday, Obama said in a statement that his administration "will work expeditiously to ensure our national security professionals again have the full set of vital tools they need to continue protecting the country."
Included in the reforms is a six-month transition period during which the NSA will restart collections of phone records that the agency recently halted on May 31. The mass collection powers are scheduled to officially end in December.
The USA Freedom Act passed despite efforts to limit its reforms by Republican House Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Blurr, who both worked to maintain the provisions of the Patriot Act.
Also unsatisfied, Republican Senator Rand Paul and Democrat Senator Bernie Sanders, both candidates for president, said they had opposed the USA Freedom Act for not doing enough to overhaul surveillance programs by government security agencies such as the NSA, FBI and Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA).
Privacy and reform activists praised the bill, including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), who described the bill's passing as a "milestone" achievement in surveillance reform. However, they still consider the tackling of phone records collection as preliminary efforts in surveillance reforms.
ACLU Deputy Legal Director, Jameel Jaffer said: "The bill leaves many of the government's most intrusive and over broad surveillance powers untouched, and it makes only very modest adjustments to disclosure and transparency requirements."