The U.S. Senate is at a standstill on the road to creating new legislation concerning the National Security Agency's (NSA) bulk collection of American phone records.

The Republican-led Senate has rejected the U.S.A. Freedom Act, which was passed with overwhelming bipartisan support in the House last week, while failing to approve various proposals for extension of Section 215 of the Patriot Act, the law that authorizes the NSA's far-reaching surveillance program that expires on June 1.

Senators voted 57 to 42 to block the Freedom Act, which does not entirely keep bulk telephone records off the hands of intelligence agencies but allows the government to acquire data from telephone companies on a case-to-case basis. This was followed by a quick rejection of the two-month extension of Section 215 proposed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican of Kentucky.

Sen. McConnell further proposed four new extensions to June 8, June 5, June 3 and June 2, all of which were repeatedly blocked by his colleagues, led by another Republican senator from Kentucky Sen. Paul Rand, who plans to contend for the presidency in 2016.

"We've entered into a momentous debate," said Sen. Rand during an 11-hour speech on the floor. "This is a debate about whether or not a warrant is a single name of a single company can be used to collect all of the phone records of all of the people in our country. Our forefathers would be aghast."

The senators are expected to convene again in a rare Sunday afternoon session on May 31, where Sen. McConnell hopes his colleagues will work together in "one more opportunity to act responsibly."

Officials have admitted that the telephone surveillance program of the NSA, which collects telephone metadata such as the phone number of both callers, the time and date of the call and the duration of the call but not the actual content of the calls. The aim is to match the phone numbers of so-called "lone wolf" terrorists in the U.S. liaising with extremist groups overseas. However, officials have said the program has never been instrumental in foiling a single terrorist attack in the U.S.

Still, Sen. McConnell believes that extending Section 215 of the Patriot Act would be "in the best interest" of the senators who have found themselves at a dead end. However, supporters of the Freedom Act have expressed their discontent with the Senate's latest move.

"Let's be clear what happened here," said Sen. Barbara Boxer, a Democrat of California. "We tried with a majority to protect this country and the Republicans objected. Let's be clear."

Photo: Gage Skidmore | Flickr

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