WASHINGTON D.C. — Tonight at midnight, Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act will expire, which means the bulk collection of Americans’ telephone records by the NSA under that particular authority will end (although other provisions will allow other forms of mass surveillance of Americans without any connection to national security threats). The Senate also voted to end debate on the USA FREEDOM Act, a package of surveillance reforms that includes an end to all bulk collection programs — setting the stage for a vote this week on that bill and a scramble to amend the bill to either weaken or strengthen its reforms.

The authors of the PATRIOT Act didn’t set out to create a surveillance state, but they set expiration dates on the law’s vaguest provisions to guard against that possibility,” said Berin Szoka, President of TechFreedom, citing the intelligence agencies’ sweeping interpretation of Section 215’s “any tangible thing” language as the basis for bulk collection. “The Section 215 sunset allowed for careful reconsideration of a program that’s proven to be illegal, intrusive, ineffective, and costly. Congress now has an opportunity to replace mass surveillance with more carefully crafted intelligence programs that protect our constitutional rights — without jeopardizing our safety.”

Ending bulk collection under Section 215 is a victory for privacy, but ending all bulk collection requires the kind of reforms contained in the USA FREEDOM Act,” continued Szoka. “And without legislative reforms, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court will continue to operate as a Star Chamber. National security hawks will undoubtedly use Section 215’s expiration as an excuse to push for weaker reforms or a return to the pre-sunset status quo. Instead, Congress must redouble its efforts to reset the balance between privacy and security — not just for the intelligence agencies, but for law enforcement, too. That means finally protecting Americans’ emails from warrantless searches by police — a reform supported by an overwhelming bipartisan majority of the House.”


We can be reached for comment at media@techfreedom.org. See more of our work on surveillance, including:

  • Coalition letter opposing data retention mandates on the private sector
  • “McConnell is Playing a Dangerous Game with the PATRIOT Act,” a statement from TechFreedom
  • “The Senate Should Move Quickly on Surveillance Reform,” a statement from TechFreedom
  • Coalition letter urging Senator McConnell Not to Fast-Track the PATRIOT Act