Government agencies that spy on Americans in ways beyond imagination want an even more expansive scope of surveillance, and they will take their case to Congress to re-up on the so-called Patriot Act.
Republican leaders of the House intelligence committee arranged for NSA and FBI representatives to hold secret briefings for members of Congress on Tuesday and Wednesday, according to The Guardian.
The foremost NSA reform bill, the USA Freedom Act, will be reintroduced soon, with some of those who supported the last bill in Congress concerned that this version will hurt a chance for widening surveillance reform.
On June 1, Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which permits U.S. law enforcement and surveillance agencies to collect business records, expires. Section 215 is the authority claimed by the NSA since 2006 for its ongoing daily bulk collection of US phone records revealed by the Guardian in 2013 by leaks from whistleblower Edward Snowden.
The Obama administration and U.S. intelligence agencies last year supported divesting the NSA of its domestic phone metadata collection, but the bill failed in November.
Meanwhile, the FBI fears no Section 215 would limit bulk collection. Additionally, it is warning that it could lose access to investigative leads for domestic terrorism and espionage, such as credit card information, hotel records and more, outside normal warrant or subpoena channels.
While the briefings were not described as a platform for defending the controversial Section 215, they “offer an important opportunity to hear directly from analysts and operators who use Section 215 as part of their daily mission to protect the Nation from terrorist attacks,” according to an announcement for legislators sent by intelligence committee chairman Devin Nunes and Georgia Republican Lynn Westmoreland, which was obtained by the Guardian.
“Our questions about constitutionality and legality were answered with statements of efficacy. We said, ‘How can this possibly be legal?’ and they would say, ‘This program works great, here’s how it’s helping us catch terrorists,’” Representative Thomas Massie, a Kentucky Republican, told the Guardian.
Ultimately, supporters of broad surveillance powers have yet to put forth a bill for their preservation. Members of the intelligence and judiciary committees in both chambers are still negotiating behind closed doors to determine the shape of a vehicle to reauthorize 215.
A congressional source told the Guardian Senate GOP leadership was “clinging to the pipe dream” of a straight reauthorization.
A different option under consideration, the website said, is making the major NSA reform bill of the last Congress the point of departure for reauthorizing 215 in the current one.
Advocates of the bill in both congressional chambers, including its original architects, have been laboring for eight weeks in marathon negotiations to revive the USA Freedom Act. The revived bill would extend the expiring provisions of the Patriot Act for a still-undetermined number of years–essentially staking out the center of the 2015-era surveillance debate for a bill that would take NSA out of the domestic bulk-collection business.