Patriot Act Counterterrorism Provisions Have Expired: What Now?

When most NSA agents and high government officials arrive to work Monday, Patriot Act provisions which aided in fighting terrorism will be unavailable, albeit temporarily. The National Security Agency began shutdown procedures for their data collection and analysis programs around 7:44 p.m. Sunday, according to CNN. The Patriot Act, which provides legislation for this massive metadata program to exist, will indeed have many of these expired provisions restored within the week — with some trepidation.

Three of the Patriot Act’s much-needed tools went dark Sunday. The telephone collection and five-year storage rule is the Patriot Act’s highly coveted tool which allows security officials to monitor, analyze, and pass key data sets to law enforcement, which can thwart potential terrorist activity. That provision, under Section 215, is gone, with no preset time frame for restoration. Moreover, law enforcement officials must seek warrants to tap suspected terrorists’ electronic devices, such as cell phones and laptops. The last, yet least, used provision of the Patriot Act eliminated Sunday allows NSA officials to use key tools to fight “lone wolf” suspects not currently tied into major terrorist cells, like ISIS.

Although FBI and NSA investigations prior to June 1 will continue to use wiretapping provisions, new investigations must go through the secret FISA court to secure warrants necessary to seize business metadata for terrorism cases. Nonetheless, the Patriot Act just lost several key tools that could cause a major rift in how terrorist cells are monitored. Several review boards determined mass metadata collection activities weren’t sufficient in bringing down single terrorist cells, meaning either sweeping changes are needed to increase availability of data collection or new provisions to the Patriot Act must be brought in.

With the rise of “lone wolf” or “freelance” terrorists across the U.S., it’s the wiretapping portion of the Patriot Act which must be restored first. Experts concede that roving taps have been used less than 100 times per year, but are necessary should new terrorist plots come up. The USA Freedom Act, highly endorsed by President Obama, endorses both metadata collection and wiretapping as tools which could help stop preemptive strikes from worldwide terrorist cells.

Senate officials were moving forward with sweeping changes to surveillance as Patriot Act provisions were expiring, according to an NPR report featuring a timeline detailing Sen. Rand Paul and other Senate members’ debates. The Senate officially adjourned until 12 p.m. Monday, with HR 2048 and the Patriot Act’s expiring provisions taking the floor upon members’ return.

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