Revisions to Patriot Act backed by both parties

By Amy R. Connolly  |  May 1, 2015 at 6:28 AM
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WASHINGTON, May 1 (UPI) -- A bill that would curb the federal government's sweeps of phone and Internet records and overhaul the Patriot Act is gaining traction in the House and Senate, underscoring the shift from the focus on national security at the expense of civil liberties to strike a new balance.

On Thursday, the House Judiciary Committee passed a bill that would curtail the bulk collection of America's phone records, exposed by Edward Snowden, and is headed to almost certain passage in the House. An identical bill is working its way through the Senate and is quickly gaining support despite objections by Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who is facing his first policy defeat since taking the reins as majority leader. Last week, McConnell proposed an overall five-year extension of the Patriot Act. The bill also extends expiring parts of the Patriot Act until December 2019.

"The bill ends bulk collection, it ends secret law," said Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., a bill co-author and the original author of the Patriot Act. "It increases the transparency of our intelligence community and it does all this without compromising national security."

The USA Freedom Act would demand that data be stored by phone companies instead of the federal government and could be accessed by federal intelligence agencies only after approval by the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court. The act will also create an expert panel to advise the FISA on privacy, civil liberties and technology matters.

The bill is meeting resistance from groups that include American Civil Liberties Union leaders, who think lawmakers should let the Patriot Act lapse on June 1. Some also worry that the effort doesn't go far enough to rein in the government spying on Americans.

"Diehards from either end of the political spectrum will want us to march to the brink," said Rep. John Conyers Jr. of Michigan.

Last year, a similar bill overwhelmingly passed the House but fell flat in the Senate. Lawmakers say this year's Freedom Act was drafted after delicate negotiations among the several House committees and supporters in the Senate.

In 2013, Snowden, a former National Security Agency contractor exposed information that showed the bulk collection of America's telephone records, among other things.

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