2015 June 1

Stalemate in Congress — Government Spying Temporarily Halted


At 12:01 a.m. on this day, a major part of government spying abruptly halted. Because of a bitter stalemate, Congress failed to renew important parts of the PATRIOT ACT (enacted on October 26, 2001) and the government’s authority to collect “bulk data” on the communications of Americans ended. The halt of spying was unprecedented.

A compromise bill was approved the following day, June 2, 2015, and the government regained the authority to continue surveillance, but only under important new restrictions. Under the new law, private communications companies would store records of communications and the government could obtain particular records only with a warrant from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Court (created on October 25, 1978). The new law also directed the secret FISA Court to declassify some of its important decisions. And finally, the law for the first time allowed private individuals to appear before the FISA Court and argue in defense of privacy rights.

The law passed on June 2nd was the first time that Congress had scaled back the capacity of the government to conduct surveillance on Americans. Most observers credit the change in the mood of Congress on this issue to Edward Snowden, who exposed massive government spying and law-breaking by stealing and releasing a massive collection of National Security Agency (NSA) documents. The Snowden-related stories began on June 5, 2013.

Learn more about Snowden: Luke Harding, The Snowden Files: The Inside Story of the World’s Most Wanted Man (2014)

Learn more; documents and analysis of the Snowden/NSA documents at the National Security Archive: http://www2.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB436/

Watch the acclaimed film about Snowden: Citizenfour (2014)

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