The clock is ticking, and Congress has until Friday of this week to re-authorize the USA PATRIOT Act’s provision, found in Section 215, which grants the National Security Agency the authority to spy on Americans’ cell phone records, or else the program could be interrupted. According to a Department of Justice memo obtained by National Journal, the Obama administration has announced that it will begin winding down the program at the end of the week if it is not renewed by Congress.
“After May 22, 2015, the National Security Agency will need to begin taking steps to wind down the bulk telephone metadata program in anticipation of a possible sunset in order to ensure that it does not engage in any unauthorized collection or use of the metadata. NSA will attempt to ensure that any shutdown of the program occurs as close in time as possible to the expiration of the authority, assuming the program has not been reauthorized in some form prior to the scheduled sunset of Section 215. In the event of a lapse in authority and subsequent reauthorization, there will necessarily be some time needed to restart the program,” stated the memo, which was sent to members of Congress.
The DOJ memo continued, “Further, the February 26, 2015 Court order renewing the authority for the NSA’s bulk telephone metadata program, which expires at 5:00 pm on June 1, 2015, directs the government to file any proposed renewal application no later than Friday, May 22, 2015, if the government seeks to renew the authorities granted in the order prior to their expiration under the order. For these reasons, after May 22, 2015, it will become increasingly difficult for the government to avoid a lapse in the current NSA program of at least some duration.”
A federal appeals court ruled earlier this month that the program is illegal, and Senators Rand Paul (R-KY) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) have threatened to filibuster its renewal. The House of Representatives recently passed the USA FREEDOM Act, which some have said ends the cell phone spying program, though Congressman Justin Amash (R-MI) criticized the legislation, saying it would force corporations to store smartphone metadata on behalf of the government. The House of Representatives is scheduled to wrap up its activities for the month on Thursday, after which time many representatives will be leaving Washington DC, meaning legislators in favor of the cell phone spying program are running out of time and options.
The Senate is currently considering the USA FREEDOM Act and two-month and five-year re-authorizations of the USA PATRIOT Act.
Meanwhile, the American Civil Liberties Union and Tea Party Patriots have put aside their differences and teamed up on a TV commercial and ad buy aimed at encouraging lawmakers to end the domestic cell phone spying program. Watch their new commercial in the below-embedded video player.