McConnell Introduces Bill to Reauthorize Patriot Act Until 2020

The move may thwart any attempt to reform the NSA’s mass-surveillance authorities.

Caption:WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 19: U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) speaks to reporters following the weekly policy lunch of the Republican caucus November 19, 2013 in Washington, DC. McConnell spoke on continued problems with the implementation of the Affordable Care Act during his remarks.
National Journal
Dustin Volz
April 21, 2015, 5:23 p.m.

Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Mitch Mc­Con­nell in­tro­duced a bill Tues­day night that would reau­thor­ize a con­tro­ver­sial sur­veil­lance au­thor­ity of the Pat­ri­ot Act un­til 2020, a push that comes just as a group of bi­par­tis­an law­makers is pre­par­ing a last-minute push to rein in the gov­ern­ment’s mass-spy­ing powers.

A Mc­Con­nell aide said the ma­jor­ity lead­er is be­gin­ning a pro­cess to put the bill on the Sen­ate cal­en­dar but ad­ded that the cham­ber will not take the meas­ure up this week. That pro­cess, known as Rule 14, would by­pass tra­di­tion­al com­mit­tee ap­prais­al and “fast-track” the le­gis­la­tion for a full cham­ber vote. Sen­ate In­tel­li­gence Chair­man Richard Burr is a co­spon­sor.

Un­der the bill, Sec­tion 215 of the post-9/11 Pat­ri­ot Act would be ex­ten­ded un­til Decem­ber 31, 2020. The core pro­vi­sion—which the Na­tion­al Se­cur­ity Agency uses to jus­ti­fy its bulk col­lec­tion of U.S. phone re­cords—is cur­rently due to ex­pire on June 1.

(RE­LATED: Where the 2016 Re­pub­lic­ans Stand on NSA Spy­ing)

 

The bill ap­pears to be an at­tempt to thwart ef­forts to rein in the NSA’s ex­pans­ive sur­veil­lance powers, which came un­der in­tense scru­tiny nearly two years ago after the dis­clos­ures spurred by former agency con­tract­or Ed­ward Snowden. A bi­par­tis­an group of law­makers was ex­pec­ted to re­in­tro­duce on Wed­nes­day a com­pre­hens­ive sur­veil­lance-re­form bill that would have ef­fect­ively ended the NSA’s drag­net of Amer­ic­ans’ call data.

It is pos­sible the bill is be­ing in­tro­duced as a backup in case the Sen­ate is un­able to agree on a re­form bill pri­or to June 1. But giv­en Mc­Con­nell’s de­fense of the in­tel­li­gence com­munity, that op­tion may be un­likely. The Ken­tucky Re­pub­lic­an led an ef­fort to vote down an NSA-re­form pack­age dur­ing the lame-duck Sen­ate last year, whip­ping most of his caucus against the Demo­crat­ic-backed meas­ure on grounds it could help ter­ror­ists kill Amer­ic­ans.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, the top Demo­crat on the Sen­ate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee and a chief back­er of sur­veil­lance re­form, quickly blas­ted Mc­Con­nell’s man­euver and vowed to op­pose any bill that reau­thor­ized Sec­tion 215 without “mean­ing­ful re­forms.”

(RE­LATED: SEC Re­veals It Doesn’t Use Email Scoop­ing Power It De­fends)

“Re­pub­lic­an lead­ers should be work­ing across the aisle on le­gis­la­tion that pro­tects both our na­tion­al se­cur­ity and Amer­ic­ans’ pri­vacy rights, but in­stead they are try­ing to quietly pass a straight reau­thor­iz­a­tion of the bulk-col­lec­tion pro­gram that has been proven in­ef­fect­ive and un­ne­ces­sary,” Leahy said in a state­ment. “And more, they are at­tempt­ing to do so without the com­mit­tee pro­cess that the ma­jor­ity lead­er has prom­ised for im­port­ant le­gis­la­tion. This tone-deaf at­tempt to pave the way for five and a half more years of un­checked sur­veil­lance will not suc­ceed.”

Pri­vacy ad­voc­ates also im­me­di­ately as­sailed Mc­Con­nell’s bill.

“The Sen­ate ma­jor­ity lead­er’s bill makes no at­tempt to pro­tect Amer­ic­ans’ pri­vacy or re­form on­go­ing NSA sur­veil­lance pro­grams that do not provide any tan­gible be­ne­fit to na­tion­al se­cur­ity,” said Har­ley Gei­ger, seni­or coun­sel at the Cen­ter for Demo­cracy & Tech­no­logy. “For Amer­ic­ans con­cerned about gov­ern­ment in­tru­sion in their lives, the bill is a kick in the stom­ach.”

Cor­rec­tion: An earli­er ver­sion of this story mis­stated Har­ley Gei­ger’s title.

This story has been up­dated.

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