The National Security Agency could continue to collect U.S. citizens’ phone records in bulk, after the Senate blocked a bill Saturday to prevent the practise, even though an appeals court has already found it to be illegal.
The lawmakers also would not pass the U.S. Freedom Act which would grant a temporary extension of legislation currently in place around phone-snooping, and will meet the day before the bill is set to expire on May 31.
If allowed to expire, the federal court decision banning bulk collection would come into force.
The NSA domestic and foreign surveillance was exposed by former employee Edward Snowden, who leaked hundreds of thousands of files and has since taken refuge in Russia.
The block comes as a blow for President Barack Obama’s administration, which had put its weight behind the Freedom Act, passed by Congress 338 to 88 earlier in May.
"The Senate has failed to make the important reforms necessary, jeopardizing Americans’ civil liberties and our national security," backers of the bill said in a statement.
The legislative measure would have helped curtail the phone records program by forcing the NSA to get a narrower set of records from private phone companies.
The bill also required the agency to get warrants from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court and phone call records maintained by the phone companies, rather than storing the records.
The Snowden files brought to light the extent of the spy agency’s capabilities, including the recent revelation that the NSA has developed technology to automatically convert telephone conversations to text, making it easier to process the data.