Now that Congress has passed the USA Freedom Act, a surveillance overhaul bill that will shutter the National Security Agency's bulk gathering of U.S. call data—having done so while shutting down attempts from the Senate Majority Mitch McConnell to weaken it—reform-minded legislators are emboldened.
But while reformers hope Tuesday's victory is an appetizer to a multiple-course meal to rein in the NSA, security hawks—many of them Republicans vying for the White House—hope to halt the post-Snowden momentum behind surveillance reform. And some already are talking about unraveling the Freedom Act.
"What you are seeing on the floor of the Senate is just the beginning," said Sen. Ron Wyden, a civil-liberties stalwart in the upper chamber who serves on the intelligence committee and has worked for more than a decade to reform government surveillance. "There is a lot more to do when—in effect—you can ensure you protect the country's safety without sacrificing our liberty."
Wyden used the Freedom Act's passage to call for additional intelligence-gathering reforms that he has long advocated, such as closing the so-called "backdoor search loophole" that allows U.S. spies to "incidentally" and warrantlessly sweep up the email and phone communications—including some content—of Americans who correspond with foreigners. He added he plans to move quickly on reworking Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, before Congress is up backed up against its renewal deadline in 2017.