After major revelations regarding the extent and pervasiveness of data collected by U.S. intelligence agencies, a significant number of Democrats and Republicans appear to support Patriot Act revisions.
The Republican-led House Judiciary Committee passed a bill on April 30 that would overhaul the Patriot Act, which is set to expire June 1, and restrict the all-encompassing metadata collection by agencies such as the NSA. The bill is expected to pass in the Republican-held House of Representatives later this month with strong bipartisan support. An identical bill was introduced in the Senate with five Republican backers, despite objections from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. If the bill passes, it would be the first policy defeat for McConnell since taking over as majority leader.
The proposed changes would prohibit the bulk sweeps of data authorized under the FBI’s so-called National Security Letters. The data would still be stored by phone and Internet companies and could be accessed only after approval of the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court. Other changes would include expert advice regarding privacy, civil liberties, and technology for the FISA courts as well as the declassification of all significant FISA court opinions. Since 1979, the FISA court has accepted all but 12 of the 33,949 warrant requests for surveillance.
Support for the changes comes from varying political circles, including Tea Party presidential candidates Senator Ted Cruz and Senator Rand Paul, House Speaker John Boehner along with both parties in the House, and President Obama.
Last year, a similar bill was passed in the House but failed to pass in the Senate.
Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin, a co-author of the Patriot Act and now proponent for its rollback said, “The bill ends bulk collection, it ends secret law. It increases the transparency of our intelligence community and it does all this without compromising national security.”
The Patriot Act was passed in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, expanding government powers in order to prevent future attacks. Opponents have criticized the Patriot Act for authorizing indefinite detention, allowing for warrantless search of homes and businesses without the owner’s knowledge or consent, and expanding metadata collection by U.S. intelligence agencies. Many provisions of the Patriot Act were originally meant to sunset out of existence but were made permanent in 2005.