WASHINGTON (MEDIA GENERAL) – After the Senate let provisions of the Patriot Act expire Sunday night, the U.S. government is without three tools to investigate and foil terrorist plots.
As debate waged on Sunday night, the National Security Agency went through procedures to shut down its bulk metadata collection program at the crux of criticism against the Patriot Act. According to CNN, the NSA officially shut down its final servers at 7:44 p.m. Sunday to ensure the agency was compliant with federal law, which would make the bulk metadata program illegal at midnight.
Government officials are split on how the loss of these tools will affect national security. New Attorney General Loretta Lynch said the country would face a “serious lapse” in national
security, while NSA critics argue the government has several other tools to investigate terrorists.
“Allowing the provisions of the Patriot Act to sunset wouldn’t affect the government’s ability to conduct targeted investigations or combat terrorism,” the American Civil Liberties Union said in a statement Thursday. “The government has numerous other tools, including administrative and grand jury subpoenas, which would enable it to gather necessary information.”
Let’s break down the three tools currently off the table to federal investigators.
The bulk metadata program
Arguably the most controversial tool stemming from the Patriot Act is the NSA’s bulk metadata program, which collects phone data of millions of Americans and can store it for up to five years. For the time being, that program is shut down.
Large groups of Americans have decried the actions of the NSA’s bulk metadata program as an invasion of privacy. The movement notably picked up steam after former system administrator Edward Snowden leaked classified information to the media in June 2013.
Currently, investigators no longer can place a “roving” wiretap on a terror suspect. A roving wiretap makes it legal for federal investigators to have a warrant in place to cover any communication device used by a terror suspect, which often change devices frequently. Without the roving wiretap, investigators will have to apply for warrants for each individual device, which could make it harder for officials to stay connected with suspects.
The ‘lone wolf’ provision
The Patriot Act also allowed federal investigators to look into “lone wolf” terror suspects – people not affiliated with terror groups but are perceived as a threat. According to the Justice Department, the “lone wolf” provision never has been used.
So what now?
The Senate is expected to pass a new bill – the USA Freedom Act – within the next few days. That bill would reinstate these three tools, but the metadata program would be overhauled. The USA Freedom Act would force government investigators to get a warrant on an individual person to seize metadata held by phone companies.
The USA Freedom Act passed through the House of Representatives 338-88 on May 13.