Most of Congress might be away for the week, but the chess game between civil libertarians and security hawks over the USA PATRIOT Act’s expiring bulk phone records collection powers rages on unabated. After Senator Rand Paul ran the clock out on the PATRIOT Act by first filibustering and then objecting to even the briefest extensions of the legislation’s Section 215 spying authority until the moment the Senate left for recess, the Obama administration began to wind down the National Security Agency’s mass hoarding of Americans’ private data.
An emergency Senate session has been planned for May 31 as security hawks lobby to extend the expiring spy powers while civil libertarians attempt to hold the line and block any extension before the legislation’s June 1 expiration date. However, according to The Hill, pro-privacy Congressman Justin Amash (R-MI) fears that House Speaker John Boehner may attempt to take advantage of this week’s low turnout at pro forma House sessions to sneak through an extension of the PATRIOT Act via voice vote. Consequently, Amash has decided to skip recess and attend the pro forma sessions to ensure that a PATRIOT Act reauthorization or extension does not slip through the House of Representatives.
Though John Boehner’s aides have said that he will not use the underhanded technique to override the will of the House, Justin Amash tweeted the Ronald Reagan quote “Trust, but verify” as he left Tuesday’s uneventful pro forma session. Pro-privacy Congressman Thomas Massie (R-KY) said last Thursday, “I just asked for an assurance [that Boehner will not extend the PATRIOT Act via voice vote] and they wouldn’t give it to me.”
Another pro forma session, viewed largely as a poorly-attended formality during recess weeks, is scheduled for Friday.
The Hill‘s Julian Hattem wrote, “Both Amash and [Congressman] Massie took up space on the Senate floor during the upper chamber’s frenzied voting late Friday night, and could be seen repeatedly huddling with like-minded Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), who stood as an obstacle to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-KY) plans for a ‘clean’ short-term extension… The House members’ presence at the Senate votes caused many watchers to speculate they would spend the week in Washington to keep an eye on the House.”
Though the House of Representatives did pass the USA FREEDOM Act, a bill that many representatives say does not include the sweeping Section 215 spy powers, Congressman Justin Amash has suggested that the legislation would instead force private companies to spy on behalf of the government. The USA FREEDOM Act has not yet prevailed in the Senate.
Earlier this month, a federal appeals court ruled that the NSA’s unpopular bulk data collection program is illegal.