House Working To Reauthorize Patriot Act By May

Giuseppe Macri Tech Editor
Font Size:

The House of Representatives is working on an aggressive plan to renew key Patriot Act spying powers before their expiration in June.

A new version of the U.S.A. Freedom Act could be introduced in the lower chamber as early as Tuesday, according to unidentified sources cited in a Hill report. Originally passed last summer but ultimately defeated in the Senate, the bill reauthorizes sections of the Patriot Act set to expire on June 1, and reforms certain national security surveillance practices. (RELATED: House Passes ‘Gutted’ NSA Surveillance Reform Bill)

Among the portions of the law set to expire is Section 215, which authorizes the National Security Agency to store and surveil all of Americans’ landline telephone records, including phone numbers, dialed numbers, locations and call durations. The program was first revealed via the leak of classified documents by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden in 2013.

The Freedom Act both renews Section 215 and places new limits on the way NSA uses it, including moving the retention of such records into the hands of a third party, and forcing the agency to go through a new warrant process with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court in order to search through specific records.

After introduction, the bill could proceed to the House Judiciary Committee for markup by the end of the week, and be considered by the full chamber before the end of April, according to an earlier statement by House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy.

Virginia Republican and Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte and ranking Michigan Democrat John Conyers are reportedly leading the effort, with backup from fellow committee members Jerrold Nadler of New York and Wisconsin Republican Jim Sensenbrenner, who first sponsored the Freedom Act and authored the Patriot Act. Specifics details about the new version of the bill have not yet to be released.

A series of last-minute cuts prior to the bill’s passage last year left many of its supporters voting in the negative, and alleging certain changes made it even easier for the NSA to conduct certain types of surveillance. A stronger version of the bill failed to pass a cloture vote in the Senate late last year after the majority of Republicans in the chamber argued it would weaken national security. (RELATED: Senate Sinks NSA Reform)

The newly Republican-dominated upper chamber will likely face even tougher hurdles this time around with just over a month left to act, and no legislative solution on the table that would appeal to all sides.

The issue could also serve as a preview of the 2016 Republican presidential nomination fight, with candidates including Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio taking opposing stances in the debate.

Paul called for a complete dismantling of the program during his announcement speech earlier this month, and voted against the Freedom Act in the Senate, arguing the bill didn’t go far enough in reforming NSA spying powers. Cruz was one of only four Republicans to vote in favor of passage, and Rubio openly attacked the bill, claiming it left the U.S. more vulnerable to threats from terrorist groups such as ISIS in the Middle East.

The Freedom Act isn’t the first bill tackling the Patriot Act to be revived in the House this year. Wisconsin Democratic Rep. Mark Pocan and Kentucky Republican Rep. Thomas Massie announced their intention last month to reintroduce the Surveillance State Repeal Act, which would repeal the Patriot Act and the 2008 FISA Amendments Act. Together, the two form the legal backbone for the NSA’s most significant surveillance programs. (RELATED: House Revives Bill To Completely Repeal The Patriot Act)

Follow Giuseppe on Twitter and Facebook