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Senate set for faceoff ahead of Patriot Act expiration

By
Amy R. Connolly
Attorney General Loretta Lynch watches as President Barack Obama speaks to the media on the need for the Senate to pass the U.S.A. Freedom Act, in the Oval Office at the White House on Friday. Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI
Attorney General Loretta Lynch watches as President Barack Obama speaks to the media on the need for the Senate to pass the U.S.A. Freedom Act, in the Oval Office at the White House on Friday. Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI | License Photo

WASHINGTON, May 30 (UPI) -- The U.S. Senate will convene Sunday in a last-ditch effort to attempt a compromise on provisions of the Patriot Act before they expire at 12:01 a.m. Monday.

Lawmakers have been unable to agree on provisions that include the National Security Agency's bulk collection of telephone metadata, which a federal appeals court recently ruled illegal. NSA reform advocates argue the provisions give federal authorities overreaching surveillance powers. President Barack Obama warned of dire circumstances if the terror-fighting tools are taken away and pointed to a "handful of senators" standing in the way.

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"Unfortunately, some folks are trying to use this debate to score political points. But this shouldn't and can't be about politics," he said in a transcript his weekly address. "This is a matter of national security. Terrorists like al-Qaida and IS [Islamic State] aren't suddenly going to stop plotting against us at midnight tomorrow. And we shouldn't surrender the tools that help keep us safe. It would be irresponsible. It would be reckless. And we shouldn't allow it to happen."

Congress has been in recess since Memorial Day and left town before passing a Patriot Act reauthorization. Obama is pushing for passage of the USA Freedom Act, that, in part, ends the bulk collection of phone records and requires the government to get specific warrants to seize telephone data. On May 23, the bill fell three votes short of the 60 needed to advance in the Senate.

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Despite opposing the bill, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell plans to open debate about the provisions, McConnell's spokesman said.

"As you know,the leader has called the Senate back prior to the expiration of the expiring provisions to make every effort to provide the intelligence community with the tools it needs to combat terror," spokesman Don Stewart said.

Saturday, Republican presidential candidate Sen. Rand Paul vowed to block any deal that would extend the Patriot Act because it invades privacy, instead looking to "start the debate on how we fight terrorism without giving up our liberty."

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"Let me be clear: I acknowledge the need for a robust intelligence agency and for a vigilant national security. I believe we must fight terrorism, and I believe we must stand strong against our enemies," he said in a written statement. "But we do not need to give up who we are to defeat them. In fact, we must not. There has to be another way. We must find it together. So tomorrow, I will force the expiration of the NSA illegal spy program."

If Patriot Act provisions do expire, the NSA and FBI will be allowed to continue bulk collecting of telephone metadata that began before the June 1 deadline. Any new investigations would not have access to roving wiretaps across multiple devices or the ability to monitor so-called "lone wolf" activity.

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