Obama signs new US surveillance bill into law

President Barack Obama on Tuesday signed into law landmark legislation passed by the Congress just hours earlier that ends the government's bulk telephone data dragnet. -- PHOTO: AFP 
President Barack Obama on Tuesday signed into law landmark legislation passed by the Congress just hours earlier that ends the government's bulk telephone data dragnet. -- PHOTO: AFP 

WASHINGTON (AFP) - President Barack Obama on Tuesday signed into law landmark legislation passed by the Congress just hours earlier that ends the government's bulk telephone data dragnet.

The bill, The USA Freedom Act, significantly reverses American policy by reining in the country's most controversial surveillance program since the Sept 11, 2001 attacks. It also reauthorises key national security programs that had lapsed early this week.

The bill halts the ability of the National Security Agency (NSA) to scoop up and store metadata – telephone numbers, dates and times of calls – from millions of Americans who have no connection to terrorism.  

It also shifts responsibility for storing the data to telephone companies, allowing authorities to access the information only with a warrant from a secret counterterror court that identifies a specific person or group of people suspected of terror ties.  

The legislation was stymied, however, by weeks of legislative wrangling that saw the bill stalled until after key provisions of the Patriot Act – anti-terror surveillance laws passed in response to the September 11, 2001 attacks – had lapsed.  

In a statement shortly before Tuesday’s bill signing, Obama chided lawmakers for the “needless delay and inexcusable lapse in important national security authorities,” in the days leading up to Tuesday’s vote.  

“My administration will work expeditiously to ensure our national security professionals again have the full set of vital tools they need to continue protecting the country,” the president said.