Privacy advocates, facing an uphill battle in a Republican-controlled Congress next year, will have to make a difficult choice.
Some argue that their best shot to curb the National Security Agency's powers will be to kill core provisions of the USA Patriot Act altogether. But other reformers aren't ready to take the post-9/11 law hostage.
The debate over whether to let the Patriot Act provisions expire in June threatens to splinter the surveillance-reform coalition. If the tech industry, privacy groups, and reform-minded lawmakers can't coalesce around a strategy soon, they may have little hope of reining in the surveillance state.
And with outrage over the Snowden revelations fading and fear over the Islamic State rising, the push for reform appears to have already lost its momentum.
The NSA critics are still licking their wounds after Senate Republicans blocked the USA Freedom Act last week. The bill, authored by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, would have prohibited the government's carte blanche collection of U.S. phone metadata—the numbers and time stamps of phone calls but not their actual contents.
The bill would have also extended key provisions of the Patriot Act for two years, including the controversial Section 215, which the NSA uses to justify its phone-record collection program. But that wasn't enough for Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Sen. Marco Rubio, and most members of the Republican Caucus, who warned that the bill would have helped terrorists kill Americans.