The US National Security Agency (NSA) is losing its authority to collect Americans’ phone records in bulk, after Republican Senator Rand Paul stood in the way of extending the fiercely contested program in an extraordinary Senate session on Sunday.
But that program and several other post-September 11 measures look likely to be revived in a matter of days.
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell reluctantly embraced a House of Representatives-passed bill that would extend the anti-extremism provisions that expire on Sunday at midnight, while also remaking the bulk phone collections program.
The lapse in the programs may be brief, but intelligence officials warned that it could jeopardize Americans’ safety and amount to a win for extremists.
US lawmakers battles over the power of NSA surveillance
U.S. lawmakers are battling over how far its spy agencies can go to collect Americans’ phone records and other data after controversial parts of the Patriot Act expired at midnight on Sunday.
CCTV-America’s Jim Spellman files the report.
U.S. lawmakers battles over the power of NSA surveillanceU.S. lawmakers are battling over how far its spy agencies can go to collect Americans' phone records and other data after controversial parts of the Patriot Act expired at midnight on Sunday. CCTV-America's Jim Spellman files the report.
- NSA bulk metadata collection that has targeted millions of innocent people, a so-called “Lone Wolf” provision that allows U-S authorities to track suspected terrorists who aren’t part of a known terror group and roving wiretaps that allow the tracking of multiple phone lines under a single court order.
- Leading the efforts to block the new law is Senator Rand Paul. The presidential hopeful argues the trade off of civil liberties for security is a bad deal.
Civil liberties groups applauded as Paul, who is running for president, forced the expiration of the once-secret program made public by NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
Critics have called the programs an unconstitutional intrusion into Americans’ privacy.
The Senate voted 77-17 to move ahead on the House-passed bill, the USA Freedom Act, which would require the government to search records maintained by phone companies.
The Senate adjourned until Monday, when it will take up the measure again at noon in Washington.
The White House backs the House bill. “The Senate took an important — if late — step forward tonight. We call on the Senate to ensure this irresponsible lapse in authorities is as short-lived as possible,” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said in a statement.
But the Senate adjourned without final action on the bill after Paul said he would assert his prerogative under Senate rules to delay a final vote for a couple of days.
“This is what we fought the revolution over, are we going to so blithely give up our freedom?” Paul said. Fellow Republicans exited the chamber en masse when he stood up to speak.
Sen. John McCain complained to reporters that Paul places “a higher priority on his fundraising and his ambitions than on the security of the nation.”
In addition to the bulk phone collections provision, two lesser-known Patriot Act provisions also lapse at midnight. One, so far unused, helps track “lone wolf” terrorism suspects unconnected to a foreign power. The second allows the government to eavesdrop on suspects who continually discard their cellphones.
The House bill, backed by the White House, extends those two provisions unchanged. It also remakes the bulk collection program so that the NSA would stop collecting the phone records after a six-month transition period, but would be authorized under court order to search the records held by the phone companies.
The FBI’s use of the Patriot Act to collect hotel, travel, credit card, banking and other business records in national security investigations would also be extended under the House bill. Law enforcement officials say the collection of those business records is more valuable than the better-known bulk phone collections program.
CIA Director John Brennan was among those warning that letting the authorities lapse, even for a time, will make America less safe.
For Paul, the issue represents a potent political opportunity, and his presidential campaign has been sending out numerous fundraising appeals focused on it.
Story by the Associated Press