The USA Freedom Act, passed by Congress on Tuesday, marks the first piece of legislation to rein in surveillance powers in the wake of disclosures two years ago by former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden and the national debate he catalyzed.
It comes as President Obama is winding down the nation’s wars overseas and as fears of another terrorist attack on the scale of Sept. 11, 2001, no longer galvanize and unify lawmakers in the same way they once did.
Today, Congress and the nation are much more divided about the proper balance between liberty and security. The inability of the Senate for weeks to resolve the issue, forcing the lapse of three surveillance powers at midnight Sunday, reflected the fissures between those who think that the terrorist threat is as potent as ever and those who believe that the government has overreached in its goal to keep Americans safe.
“The Senate’s passage of the USA Freedom Act today is a huge win for national security and the Fourth Amendment,” said Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), a lead sponsor of the bill.
At the same time, the legislation doesn’t end the surveillance debate or go as far as some members of the president’s liberal base or the libertarian right would like. Some lawmakers have vowed to press for further changes to protect citizens’ privacy and enhance transparency.
“The fight to protect Americans’ constitutional rights against government overreach is not over,” Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), who has long called for an end to secret surveillance law, said in a statement. He added: “Everybody who has supported our fight for surveillance reform over the last two years is responsible for our victory today and I’m looking forward to working with a bipartisan coalition to push for greater reforms in the future.”