Senate leader introduces bill to extend Patriot Act surveillance

The new legislation would extend the telephone records collection section of the law for five years

The majority leader of the U.S. Senate has introduced a bill that would extend the surveillance provisions of the Patriot Act until 2020, instead of expiring on June 1.

The bill, introduced by Senator Mitch McConnell Tuesday night, would extend section 215 of the Patriot Act, the controversial part of the law that the U.S. National Security Agency has used to collect U.S. telephone records in bulk. Many digital and civil rights groups have protested the NSA phone records collection program, saying it violates the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protecting the country's residents against unreasonable searches and seizures.

The bill, if passed, would kill efforts in Congress to rein in the NSA's telephone records collection program. In addition to phone records, Section 215 of the Patriot Act allows the NSA or FBI to collect business records and "any tangible things" when the agencies have "reasonable grounds" to believe those records are relevant to an antiterrorism investigation.

A spokesman for McConnell didn't immediately respond to a message seeking comments on the bill.

McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, is reportedly pushing for the bill to be fast-tracked straight to the Senate floor, without any hearings or votes in Senate committees.

Supporters of section 215 have long argued it's necessary to help U.S. agencies track down terrorists. The program was revealed in leaks by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

"Section 215 contains a number of safeguards that protect civil liberties, beginning with its narrow scope," the Office of Director of National Intelligence says in its defense of the law.  "It can only be used to obtain foreign intelligence information not concerning a United States person or to protect against international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities.  It cannot be used to investigate ordinary crimes, or even domestic terrorism."

The bill generated swift opposition from several digital rights groups. The bill represents an "unacceptable" maintenance of the status quo on NSA surveillance, said Berin Szoka, president of free market think tank TechFreedom. The expiration of parts of the Patriot Act in June should be a "wake-up call" for Congress to better balance national security and privacy, he said by email.

"Simply reauthorizing Section 215 means no oversight, no transparency, no court reforms, and no protections against bulk collection," Szoka added. "We cannot afford to have Congress rubber-stamp the Patriot Act ... without significant reforms."

Earlier this month, a coalition of digital rights and other groups launched a campaign to kill or significantly amend section 215. The Fight 215 campaign encourages U.S. residents to contact their lawmakers and ask them to oppose renewal of the surveillance provision.

The coalition includes more than 30 groups, representing both the right and left ends of the political spectrum. In about two weeks, more than 4,000 visitors to the Fight215.org have placed calls to lawmakers, and about 6,000 have posted information on social networks, said TechFreedom, a member of the coalition.

Coalition members would be happy with Congress killing section 215, but also with an amended provision if it protects privacy, said Holmes Wilson, co-director of Fight for the Future, a digital rights group that's part of the coalition. "We'd consider either a victory, depending on the content of the amendment," he said by email.

With an amendment that would have ended the NSA phone records program narrowly failing in the House of Representatives in mid-2013, coalition members are optimistic their efforts will prevail in Congress this year, Wilson said.

"There's a solid chance of a left/right alliance standing up to stop suspicionless mass surveillance," he said. "The near success of the [NSA] amendment in 2013 shows a path forward."

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's email address is grant_gross@idg.com.

Join the Good Gear Guide newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags Mitch McConnellU.S. SenateBerin SzokaU.S. National Security AgencylegislationgovernmentU.S. Office of Director of National IntelligenceFight for the FutureprivacyHolmes WilsonsecurityEdward SnowdenTechFreedom

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Grant Gross

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Cool Tech

Crucial Ballistix Elite 32GB Kit (4 x 8GB) DDR4-3000 UDIMM

Learn more >

Gadgets & Things

Lexar® Professional 1000x microSDHC™/microSDXC™ UHS-II cards

Learn more >

Family Friendly

Lexar® JumpDrive® S57 USB 3.0 flash drive 

Learn more >

Stocking Stuffer

Plox Star Wars Death Star Levitating Bluetooth Speaker

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles

Resources

GGG Evaluation Team

Kathy Cassidy

STYLISTIC Q702

First impression on unpacking the Q702 test unit was the solid feel and clean, minimalist styling.

Anthony Grifoni

STYLISTIC Q572

For work use, Microsoft Word and Excel programs pre-installed on the device are adequate for preparing short documents.

Steph Mundell

LIFEBOOK UH574

The Fujitsu LifeBook UH574 allowed for great mobility without being obnoxiously heavy or clunky. Its twelve hours of battery life did not disappoint.

Andrew Mitsi

STYLISTIC Q702

The screen was particularly good. It is bright and visible from most angles, however heat is an issue, particularly around the Windows button on the front, and on the back where the battery housing is located.

Simon Harriott

STYLISTIC Q702

My first impression after unboxing the Q702 is that it is a nice looking unit. Styling is somewhat minimalist but very effective. The tablet part, once detached, has a nice weight, and no buttons or switches are located in awkward or intrusive positions.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?