The National Security Agency still has the authority to collect wide-ranging metadata about your phone calls—at least for now. A controversial bill aimed at reforming the intelligence agency failed to pass the U.S. Senate on Tuesday, with some arguing that it went too far in curtailing the NSA's powers, and others contending it didn't go far enough.
At the center of what supporters have dubbed the USA Freedom Act is the NSA's collection of bulk phone information, as revealed by whistleblower Edward Snowden. That capability, which for the last eight years has been under the aegis of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, allowed the agency to collect and hold onto large swathes of data about who called who, for how long, and so on—the content of those conversations, however, was not captured.
Had the bill passed, the NSA would have had a much tougher time collecting information about the communications of American citizens. The agency would have been required to specify targets for the collection of phone data, which would have to involve some sort of agent of a foreign power—or, at the very least, a connection with a suspected agent of that sort. Moreover, getting access to phone data without individualized warrants would have required a court order, and strictures on targeting foreigners with an eye towards getting information about Americans—so-called "reverse targeting"—would have been tightened.