Senate Bill To Extend NSA Surveillance Authorisation

Edward Snowden privacy protest NSA US Washington © Rena Schild Shutterstock

Here we go again. US Republicans introduce Bill to extend surveillance elements of the US Patriot Act

The Republication Party has introduced a new Bill in the US Senate that looks set to trigger a fresh wave of concern about NSA surveillance and data gathering.

The bill aims to extend the ability of US government agencies for the mass collection of US telephone records.

Surveillance Extension

america security - Shutterstock - © Bruce RolffAt the moment, the US Patriot Act was introduced after the September 2001 attacks on America. Section 215 of the Act gave US government agencies (including the NSA) the authorisation to carry out the bulk collection of the meta data of all US telephone calls, under a program called Prism.

The current law is set to expire on June 1 this year, but now Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is sponsoring a bill that will extend this data harvesting authorisation until 31 December 2020.

And according to Reuters, Republicans said they would expedite Senate consideration of McConnell’s bill, which was submitted late on Tuesday. They will send it directly to the Senate floor rather than considering it first in committee.

The general public became aware of the extent of the NSA data gathering programs when it was first revealed by whistleblower Edward Snowden in June 2013.

President Barack Obama has called for reform, but he (and the intelligence community) still want to retain the capabilities of the NSA to carry bulk data collections, and are in favour of modest changes. Namely they want scope of the data collection to be more limited and Obama wants US telephone companies to actually store the data, rather than it being stored by the NSA. He also wants to limit the amount of time that the data can be stored.

US telecom companies are resisting these reform proposals, which have been labelled as “pretty pitiful” by some observers.

Retire The Act

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) meanwhile has made it clear that the US Patriot Act needs to be retired.

“The most egregious part of the Patriot Act, Section 215 – which underlies the National Security Agency’s call-records program – is scheduled to expire on June 1,” blogged Anthony D. Romero, Executive Director of the ACLU.

“Some legislators want Congress to reauthorize it in its current form – Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has just introduced a bill that would do exactly that, extending it for another five years,” Romero wrote. “Others want to make relatively minor changes. Congress shouldn’t do either of these things. Unless Congress can coalesce around far-reaching reform, it should simply let the provision expire.”

“The Patriot Act has been at the root of many of the most serious abuses of government spying powers, wrote Romero. “It was the Patriot Act the government relied on to conduct clandestine searches in investigations having nothing to do with terrorism. It was the Patriot Act the government invoked to permit the FBI to disregard the Fourth Amendment. And it’s the Patriot Act the government is now using to justify the NSA’s call-records program.”

Romero pointed out that the NSA surveillance is also ineffective, after a review group appointed by the president as well as the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board concluded that there was no evidence at all that the NSA’s massive surveillance program had ever played a pivotal role in any investigation.

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