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McConnell Fast-Tracks Bill To Reauthorize Patriot Act Until 2020

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By Giuseppe Macri 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell introduced a bill Tuesday night to reauthorize a portion of the Patriot Act that allows the National Security Agency to sweep up call records on millions of Americans until 2020.

McConnell began the process of placing the bill on the Senate calendar Tuesday night under Rule 14, which allows the legislation to skip committee markup.

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The bill, cosponsored by Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr, “extend[s] authority relating to roving surveillance, access to business records, and individual terrorists as agents of foreign powers under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 and for other purposes.”

Under the legislation, Section 215 of the Patriot Act would be renewed for another five years. Section 215 authorizes the NSA to collect and store virtually all Americans’ landline telephone records, including telephone numbers, dialed numbers, call durations and locations. The provision expires on June 1.

McConnell’s bill comes amid a renewed effort to revive the U.S.A. Freedom Act in the House, where it passed last year but failed in the Senate. The Freedom Act renews Section 215, but includes reforms to limit the NSA’s access to phone records. (RELATED: House Working To Reauthorize Patriot Act By May)

Republicans led by McConnell attacked the Freedom Act late last year, insisting the new reforms would open the U.S. up to greater threats from terrorist organizations including ISIS in the Middle East.

Vermont Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy, who originally sponsored the Freedom Act in the upper chamber, called McConnell’s move a “tone-deaf” attempt at green-lighting “unchecked surveillance.”

“Republican leaders should be working across the aisle on legislation that protects both our national security and Americans’ privacy rights, but instead they are trying to quietly pass a straight reauthorization of the bulk-collection program that has been proven ineffective and unnecessary,” Leahy said in a statement Tuesday. “And more, they are attempting to do so without the committee process that the majority leader has promised for important legislation.”

“This tone-deaf attempt to pave the way for five and a half more years of unchecked surveillance will not succeed,” Leahy added.

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