Senate Republicans Block Consideration Of USA FREEDOM Act Days Before Critical Intelligence Authorities Set To Expire

WASHINGTON (Tuesday, May 19, 2015) – Critical surveillance authorities used by the intelligence community are set to expire in a matter of days, and intelligence leaders and the administration are urging Congress to act.  Following last week’s overwhelming House vote in favor of the USA FREEDOM Act, Senate Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) joined with Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah) Tuesday to seek unanimous consent for the Senate to consider the legislation.  Despite having broad support, Senate Republicans objected to even considering the bill.

“Time is running out for the Senate to act,” Leahy said on the floor.  “I have confirmed with the Justice Department that Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act, the roving wiretaps provision, and the lone wolf provision all will expire on May 31st.  That means that as of 12:01 a.m. on June 1st, those provisions will no longer be good law.”

Senate Republican leaders are seeking to pass a short-term extension of surveillance authorities, but as Leahy said on Tuesday, House Republican leaders have made clear they will not support such an extension. As a result, “The USA FREEDOM Act is the only responsible solution before the Senate,” Leahy said.

Senate Republicans similarly blocked from consideration a similar version of the USA FREEDOM Act last year.  Speaking on the floor earlier Tuesday, Leahy noted that the current Majority Leader blocked the measure last November “to wait for the new Congress.” However, “Five months into the new Republican majority, and with the deadline looming, the new majority leader just now is turning his attention to this issue.  The Republican-led Senate Committees have not taken steps toward reauthorization or reform.”

The bipartisan USA FREEDOM Act brings needed reform to three expiring sections of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).  It has broad support and it would end the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of Americans’ phone records.  A three-judge panel of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously found this program was unlawful, and goes beyond what is authorized under Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act. 

The Washington Post this week called the USA FREEDOM a good compromise that is “more protective of privacy than existing law but not a danger to national security. It should pass, and the sooner the better.”   An outline of the USA FREEDOM Act of 2015 can be found here, and text of legislation can be found online.

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