Patriot Act Heading for Sunset on June 1st if No Action Taken

The Senate struggled to prevent an interruption in government surveillance programs early Saturday, rejecting both a House-passed bill and a short term extension of the USA Patriot Act.

The back-to-back votes left lawmakers without a fallback that is clear, although current law doesn’t expire until midnight May 31.

The White House has demanded the Senate to back the House bill, which would stop the National Security Agency’s majority collection of phone records that were national. Instead, the records would stay with telephone companies subject to some case by case review.

The vote was 57- 42 -vote threshold to move.

That was instantly followed by rejection of a two-month extension to the existing systems. The vote was 45- 54, again short of the 60 vote threshold.

Republican officials said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, thought to try again, this time with an even briefer renewal of present law.

Whatever the Senate approves must be passed by the House, which includes already left Washington for a weeklong Memorial Day break.

The legal provisions authorizing the plans will expire at midnight May 31, and officials say they’ll lose useful surveillance tools if the Senate does not go combined with the House. But key Republican senators fight the House approach.

At issue is a section of the Patriot Act, Section 215, used by the authorities to warrant secretly gathering the “to and from” information about just about any American landline telephone call. For bureaucratic and specialized reasons, the plan had not been collecting a sizable chunk of cellular telephoning records, which made it less powerful as fewer people continued to use landlines.

When former NSA contractor Edward Snowden shown the program in 2013, many Americans were outraged that NSA had their calling records. President Barack Obama finally declared a plan similar to the USA Freedom Act and requested it to be passed by Congress. He explained the strategy would preserve the NSA’s capability to hunt for domestic connections to international schemes without having an intelligence agency hold an incredible number of Americans’ private records.

But if Section 215 expires without replacing, the authorities would lack the blanket authority to conduct those searches. There would be legal techniques to hunt for links in U.S. telephone records to terrorists, said current and former U.S. officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the issue freely. But those methods would not be applicable in every case.

The Justice Department has said the NSA would start winding down its collection of domestic calling records this week in the event the Senate fails to act since the collection does take time to halt.