By Andrew V. Pestano
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) (C), Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) (L) and Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) speak following the Republican Senate policy luncheons on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., March 10, 2015. Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI | License Photo
WASHINGTON, April 22 (UPI) — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., introduced a bill Tuesday to extend the controversial Patriot Act and its surveillance provisions until 2020.
The extension would allow the National Security Agency to continue to collect data of millions on U.S. phone records daily. The NSA does so under the authority of Section 215, which allows for secret court orders to collect “tangible things” that could be used by the government in investigations.
The Patriot Act was enacted after the Sept. 11 attacks to combat terrorism. McConnell used a Senate rule that will take the bill’s extension straight to the floor for voting, a move that would bypass traditional committee vetting process.
Section 215 expires on June 1. The NSA’s mass collection program was revealed by former contractor Edward Snowden, sparking a debate about privacy, security and the reach of government surveillance.
“Despite overwhelming consensus that the bulk collection of Americans’ phone records under Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act must end, Senate Republican leaders are proposing to extend that authority without change,” Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., said in a statement. “This tone deaf attempt to pave the way for five and a half more years of unchecked surveillance will not succeed. I will oppose any reauthorization of Section 215 that does not contain meaningful reforms.”
Leahy and a bipartisan group of lawmakers on the House Judiciary Committee are attempting to end the NSA’s mass collection of records. Advocates for privacy condemned McConnell’s extension introduction.
“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,” Harley Geiger, policy counsel at the Center for Democracy & Technology, said. “For Americans concerned about government intrusion in their lives, the bill is a kick in the stomach.”