Lawmakers threaten not to renew controversial PATRIOT Act provision

Several members of the House Judiciary Committee threatened on Tuesday to let a controversial section of the PATRIOT Act expire next year if the Obama administration doesn’t significantly reform the NSA’s bulk phone metadata collection program:

Members of the House Judiciary Committee said Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which is set to expire in the summer of 2015, will be dissolved unless the administration proposes broad changes to the NSA’s collection of phone records.

Rep. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.), who wrote the Patriot Act and its two reauthorizations, told Deputy Attorney General James Cole that the administration was on the hook to find a workable alternative.

“Section 215 expires in June of next year,” Sensenbrenner said. “Unless Section 215 is fixed, you, Mr. Cole, and the intelligence community will end up getting nothing because I am absolutely confident that there are not the votes in this Congress to reauthorize 215.”

Section 215 is the statute through which the Justice Department and NSA have claimed the power to collect Americans’ phone metadata. Per FISA court orders, which is ostensibly a general warrant, the intelligence agency is able to obtain metadata of virtually every American — including phone numbers, times and durations, and the location from which the call was made. The administration insists that no one is listening in on phone calls, though metadata can be just as revealing.

Sensenbrenner, who authored the PATRIOT Act, disputes the administration’s interpretation of the law, saying it defies congressional intent. He’s emerged as one of the fiercest critics of the domestic snooping dragnet and previously threatened that Congress could nix Section 215.

Despite the heavy criticism, Cole told the committee that the program is a “very useful tool” because it allows intelligence agencies to see “connections from one person to another.” Those claims are specious.

While President Obama and others in his administration like to invoke terrorism, several different reports — including the White House’s own review panelhave debunked the notion that the bulk phone metadata collection has had an impact in preventing terrorist attacks, nor would they have prevented 9/11.


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