Amer­i­can spy laws ex­pire as US Se­nate deal fails to se­cure pas­sage

The China Post - - INTERNATIONAL - BY MICHAEL MATHES

Key pro­vi­sions of the U.S. Pa­triot Act ex­pired early Mon­day af­ter the Se­nate failed to pre­vent their lapse, plung­ing U.S. na­tional se­cu­rity ef­forts into po­ten­tial dis­ar­ray as the coun­try faces per­sis­tent ex­trem­ist threats.

The mid­night (0400 GMT) dead­line came and went with sen­a­tors un­able to reach a deal stop­ping the coun­tert­er­ror pro­vi­sions from ex­pir­ing, af­ter Repub­li­can Sen. Rand Paul sin­gle-hand­edly blocked any ac­tion.

The Se­nate had ac­tu­ally taken the step of ad­vanc­ing painstak­ingly crafted bi­par­ti­san re­form leg­is­la­tion that would end the con­tro­ver­sial Na­tional Se­cu­rity Agency pro­gram, which scoops up tele­phone data on mil­lions of Amer­i­cans with no con­nec­tion to ter­ror­ism.

But law­mak­ers failed to seal the deal on the USA Free­dom Act, which would also pre­serve im­por­tant na­tional se­cu­rity pro­vi­sions, or pass a short-term ex­ten­sion of those pro­vi­sions first cod­i­fied in the USA Pa­triot Act in the af­ter­math of the 9/11 at­tacks of 2001.

“The Pa­triot Act will ex­pire tonight,” Se­na­tor Paul said af­ter hours of ul­ti­mately fruit­less de­bate on how to get the re­form bill across the fin­ish line.

Paul, a 2016 pres­i­den­tial can­di­date, blocked ex­pe­dited votes on the mea­sure, as well as any po­ten­tial ex­ten­sions of Pa­triot Act au­tho­riza­tions.

The re­form bill ap­peared likely to pass later this week, ac­cord­ing to sen­a­tors and aides, and as it stands would mark a his­toric end to the tele­phone data drag­net first ex­posed by Ed­ward Snow­den in 2013.

But the de­lay means the bulk data pro­gram and two other Pa­triot Act pro­vi­sions, al­low­ing rov­ing wire­taps on ter­ror sus­pects and lone-wolf track­ing, lapsed Mon­day ahead of the bill’s pass­ing.

“There is no way to get any type of agree­ment tonight — ei­ther an ex­ten­sion or pas­sage of a bill,” Se­nate In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee chair­man Richard Burr told AFP late on Sun­day.

The Free­dom Act has al­ready passed the House, but with the Se­nate yet to act on pro­tect­ing or re­form­ing crit­i­cal coun­tert­er­ror el­e­ments, Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McConnell had called for a rare Sun­day ses­sion to thrash out a so­lu­tion.

But Paul, who wants the en­tire bulk data pro­vi­sion scrapped and does not sup­port the re­form bill, stood in the way.

“We call on the Se­nate to en­sure this ir­re­spon­si­ble lapse in au­thor­i­ties is as short-lived as pos­si­ble,” White House press sec­re­tary Josh- ua Earnest said in a state­ment.

He said the Se­nate “took an im­por­tant — if late — step for­ward” with the re­form bill, and en­cour­aged law­mak­ers to “put aside their par­ti­san mo­ti­va­tions and act swiftly” to get it passed.

The lapse raises what some law­mak­ers said were alarm­ing ques­tions about how U.S. au­thor­i­ties can keep the coun­try safe with a di­min­ished se­cu­rity tool­box.

“I think it’s very, very un­for­tu­nate that we’re in this po­si­tion,” said Sen. Mike Lee, a con­ser­va­tive Repub­li­can who sup­ports the re­form bill.

“We’ve known this date was com­ing for four years. Four years. And I think it’s in­ex­cus­able that we ad­journed” for a week­long break last week with­out re­solv­ing the is­sue.

Keep­ing Amer­ica Safe

With the clock tick­ing, CIA chief John Bren­nan warned Sun­day that al­low­ing vi­tal sur­veil­lance pro­grams to lapse could in­crease ter­ror threats, and ar­gued that the phone meta­data drag­net has not abused civil lib­er­ties and only serves to safe­guard cit­i­zens.

“This is some­thing that we can’t af­ford to do right now,” Bren­nan said of al­low­ing the coun­tert­er­ror­ism pro­vi­sions to ex­pire.

“Be­cause if you look at the hor­rific ter­ror­ist at­tacks and vi­o­lence be­ing per­pe­trated around the globe, we need to keep our coun­try safe, and our oceans are not keep­ing us safe the way they did a cen­tury ago,” he said on CBS talk show “Face the Na­tion.”

Bren­nan added that groups like Is­lamic State have fol­lowed the de­vel­op­ments “very care­fully” and are “look­ing for the seams to op­er­ate.”

Bren­nan did not men­tion Paul by name, but he ex­pressed ex­as­per­a­tion over the politi­ciza­tion of im­por­tant pro­grams which he in­sisted “have not been abused” by U.S. au­thor­i­ties.

“Un­for­tu­nately I think there is a lit­tle too much po­lit­i­cal grand­stand­ing and cru­sad­ing for ide­o­log­i­cal causes that have re­ally fu­elled the de­bate on this is­sue,” he said.

Se­nate Mi­nor­ity Leader Harry Reid blasted Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McConnell for op­pos­ing the painstak­ingly crafted com­pro­mise re­form leg­is­la­tion that over­whelm­ingly passed the House, but hav­ing no vi­able plan that would keep cru­cial pro­vi­sions from ex­pir­ing.

“That’s why we’re here, star­ing down the bar­rel of yet an­other un­nec­es­sary man­u­fac­tured cri­sis that threat­ens our na­tional se­cu­rity,” Reid said on the Se­nate floor.

In­de­pen­dent Sen. An­gus King said it was im­por­tant to halt the gov­ern­ment stor­age of meta­data, leav­ing it in­stead with telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions com­pa­nies and forc­ing au­thor­i­ties to get a se­cret court or­der be­fore ob­tain­ing data on spe­cific sus­pects.

But he said the Free­dom Act should be im­proved so that it com­pels com­pa­nies to hold data for a long pe­riod of time.

AFP

This Oct. 30, 2013 file photo shows the shadow of a jour­nal­ist on posters an­nounc­ing the visit of a Euro­pean Par­lia­ment del­e­ga­tion to the U.S. dur­ing a press con­fer­ence at the Euro­pean Union head­quar­ters in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., to gather in­for­ma­tion on is­sues re­lated to the In­quiry on the Elec­tronic Mass Sur­veil­lance of EU cit­i­zens by the U.S. Na­tional Se­cu­rity Agency (NSA).

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