US senators stall vote to extend NSA phone records dragnet

Senator Rand Paul filibusters efforts to pass a bill to renew parts of the Patriot Act past June 1

Senator Mike Lee, a Utah Republican, joins a filibuster on the Senate floor against extending the telephone records collection provision of the Patriot Act on May 20, 2015.

Senator Mike Lee, a Utah Republican, joins a filibuster on the Senate floor against extending the telephone records collection provision of the Patriot Act on May 20, 2015.

Four U.S. senators ground the chamber's business to a halt Wednesday in an effort to prevent lawmakers from voting on a bill to extend portions of the Patriot Act used to collect telephone and business records from the country's residents.

Time is running out for the Senate to extend the telephone records collection section of the Patriot Act before it expires at the end of the month. In an effort to block a vote, Senator Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican, took control of the Senate floor in a filibuster mid-Wednesday, with Senators Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, Mike Lee, a Utah Republican, and Martin Heinrich, a New Mexico Democrat, joining him later in the day.

The three senators have criticized the National Security Agency program used to collect U.S. telephone records in bulk for nearly a decade, with the agency citing authorization from the Patriot Act. Section 215 of the law allows the NSA to collect any domestic telephone and business records that U.S. officials find relevant to an ongoing antiterrorism investigation, and the past two presidential administrations have used that language to collect nearly all U.S. telephone records.

Senate leaders had planned to bring a bill to extend the Patriot Act's business and phone records provisions beyond June 1 to the floor on Wednesday, but the Paul's filibuster prevented that from happening.

Paul called for a robust Senate debate on whether to extend Section 215 before a vote. During the week, the Senate has been debating a fast-track trade bill, but Paul objected to a quick vote on extending the Patriot Act. "Shouldn't we get together and say, 'Let's have a debate; let's devote a week to this?'" Paul said.

The NSA's bulk collection of telephone records violates the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which protects the country's residents against unreasonable searches and seizures, Paul said. Government agencies should seek court-ordered warrants targeting specific terrorism suspects, he added.

"I see no reason you can't have security and the Constitution at the same time," he said. "There's no reason why we can't catch terrorists like we catch other bad people in our society, by using the Constitution."

The NSA is collecting the records of "hundreds of millions of Americans, and I think it ought to stop," Paul added.

The Senate has just two days to extend the telephone records section of the Patriot Act before that portion of the antiterrorism law expires. U.S. lawmakers are scheduled to leave Washington, D.C., on Friday for a week-long break for Memorial Day, and without action, the telephone records program would come to a halt at "11:59:59" p.m. on Sunday, May 31, according to a U.S. Department of Justice spokesman.

The Senate is scheduled to vote Friday afternoon on a fast-track trade bill. Paul potentially could control the Senate floor until then. Paul took the Senate floor at 1:18 p.m. EST Wednesday and spoke for about two hours and 25 minutes before Wyden joined him on the floor. The filibuster continued late Wednesday.

Earlier this month, the House of Representatives passed the USA Freedom Act, a bill aimed at ending the NSA's bulk collection of U.S. phone records, while allowing the agency to continue collecting U.S. data in a more targeted manner. But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, like Paul a Kentucky Republican, has pushed for a straight renewal of Section 215 of the Patriot Act with no new limits on NSA records collection.

McConnell on Tuesday said the Senate has an obligation to vote on the Patriot Act before the Memorial Day break, by either voting on the USA Freedom Act or an alternative.

"It's my view that letting it expire is not a responsible thing to do," McConnell said on Tuesday. "What I think is the most important thing is to make sure we still have a program, a program that works, and helps protect the American people from attacks. That's the bottom line here."

Meanwhile, a coalition of digital rights groups called for nationwide sunset vigils at 7 p.m. Thursday to oppose an extension of Section 215 of the Patriot Act. Participating groups include Demand Progress, Fight for the Future and Free Press. The vigil in Washington will be on the west lawn of the Capitol Building.

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's email address is grant_gross@idg.com.

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection

Tags governmentsecurityprivacylegislationtelecommunicationfree pressU.S. National Security AgencyU.S. SenateRon WydenDemand ProgressMike LeeFight for the FutureRand PaulMitch McConnellMartin Heinrich

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Grant Gross

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Cool Tech

Breitling Superocean Heritage Chronographe 44

Learn more >

SanDisk MicroSDXC™ for Nintendo® Switch™

Learn more >

Toys for Boys

Family Friendly

Panasonic 4K UHD Blu-Ray Player and Full HD Recorder with Netflix - UBT1GL-K

Learn more >

Stocking Stuffer

Razer DeathAdder Expert Ergonomic Gaming Mouse

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Edwina Hargreaves

WD My Cloud Home

I would recommend this device for families and small businesses who want one safe place to store all their important digital content and a way to easily share it with friends, family, business partners, or customers.

Walid Mikhael

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

It’s easy to set up, it’s compact and quiet when printing and to top if off, the print quality is excellent. This is hands down the best printer I’ve used for printing labels.

Ben Ramsden

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

Brainstorming, innovation, problem solving, and negotiation have all become much more productive and valuable if people can easily collaborate in real time with minimal friction.

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Ratchada Dunn

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The Huddle Board’s built in program; Sharp Touch Viewing software allows us to easily manipulate and edit our documents (jpegs and PDFs) all at the same time on the dashboard.

George Khoury

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The biggest perks for me would be that it comes with easy to use and comprehensive programs that make the collaboration process a whole lot more intuitive and organic

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?