NSA dragnet domestic phone records slurp halted after key spying powers lapse

But 'irresponsible' Senate now backs Freedom Act

A number of key provisions in the US Patriot Act lapsed at midnight on Sunday, after the Senate failed to get its act together, much to the chagrin of the White House.

It means that – for the first time in almost 14 years – g-men have temporarily lost the authority to scoop up and store phone call records of State-side citizens.

Three powers, including Section 215 of the Patriot Act, expired last night. That particular provision had granted the NSA legal cover for its blanket slurping of mobile phone logs.

The White House accused the Senate of acting rashly by failing to strike a deal on Sunday to allow spooks to continue to spy on US citizens. According to the Associated Press, a spokesman said:

"We call on the Senate to ensure this irresponsible lapse in authorities is as short-lived as possible."

However, senators agreed yesterday to back the Freedom Act, after the proposed law was blocked on 23 May.

In response to that U-turn, the White House mouthpiece said: "The Senate took an important if late-step forward tonight."

US President Barak Obama had earlier lobbied the Senate to support the Freedom Act because it offered reforms for "the most controversial provision ... the gathering of phone exchanges in a single government database".

The proposed legislation would still allow law enforcement to access mobile phone metadata of American citizens but it won't be able to stockpile it. Instead, phone companies would be required to store the records and then respond to lawful access requests on a case-by-case basis. ®

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