Republican Senate leader wants to extend surveillance law

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell intends to extend provisions allowing spy agencies collect mass telephone data through 2020

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Updated Jul 28, 2015

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said he aims to extend provisions of the Patriot Act before it expires on June 1.

The Patriot Act, which was passed in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, was used by the National Security Agency (NSA) and other spy agencies to justify bulk collection of data about American’s phone calls and other surveillance programmes.

McConnell said he wants to renew the legislation as it is through 2020, but he is likely to face strong opposition both from his fellow Republicans and Democrats, as the Patriot Act has become a matter of controversy since the NSA’s massive surveillance programme was revealed in 2013.

Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Rand Paul (R-KY), a 2016 presidential candidate known for his libertarian stance, pledged to filibuster the renewal of Patriot Act with its current form.  

The Republican leader proposed a measure to extend the Patriot Act provisions for two months but he could not succeed.

The US House of Representatives passed a bill last week that bans spy agencies’ mass collection of Americans’ telephone data.

The bill, dubbed USA Freedom Act, passed with an overwhelming 338-88 vote, requires spy agencies to have a court order showing reasonable doubt about a link to international terrorism to acquire phone data or other personal records.

McConnell did not say whether he plans to put the Freedom Act to a vote in Senate while many members expressed their desire for it.

The programme was first exposed by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden in 2013 igniting strong criticism from privacy advocates.

A US appeals court concluded on May 6 that the NSA’s bulk collection of Americans’ telephone metadata exceeded the scope of what Congress authorised and was therefore illegal.

American Civil Liberties Union, which was the plaintiff in appeals court ruling, claims the Patriot Act is unconstitutional as it violates freedom of speech, and gives the government agencies the ability to conduct search without a warrant.

Defendants of the data collection programme claim it enhances the security of the citizens by enabling intelligence agencies to prevent attacks on the nation.

The programme is set to expire on June 1 if Congress does not act to renew it with its current form or in a revised version before going to a 10-day recess after this week.

TRTWorld and agencies