By: Jason Tran
With Congress in recess this week, President Barack Obama strongly urged Senators to reconvene and renew surveillance programs contained within the Patriot Act before they expire on June 1st.
After the 9/11 attack, Congress passed the Patriot Act, granting the government power to spy on Americans—but some provisions are set to expire next Monday, including one which allows the government to collect private and public phone call data.
The controversial debate in congress revolves around this provision, which was ruled illegal by a federal court on May 7.
The House passed a bill, 338 to 88, to prohibit the National Security Agency (NSA) from collecting mass data on telephone calls by Americans, leaving the data collecting to private telecommunication firms. Although this House bill will exclude the government from the collection aspect, it does not prevent them from accessing the information.
The Senate failed to pass the bill sent from the House by a vote of 57-42—three votes short of passage—along with an additional bill to extend the program for two months. Moving forward, it appears that political gridlock prevents the Senate from taking action. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky prefers to renew the law as it now stands, while other senators want to make serious changes to protect individual liberty.
The Senate plans to meet on May 31, the day before expiration. Debate will continue whether to renew or change provisions in the Patriot Act, but the tight schedule increases wariness of the Senate’s ability to act.
In the meantime, President Obama continues to warn the Senate that if the surveillance programs are not renewed, it will place the American people in danger.