Ellen Nakashima-- The Washington Post
Almost two years after the disclosure of the government’s mass collection of Americans’ phone records, Congress is confronting a fast-approaching deadline to either continue the collection or end it.
On Tuesday, a bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced a bill aimed at blocking the National Security Agency from collecting the phone records of millions of Americans. The effort was described by its sponsors as a balanced approach that would ensure the NSA maintains an ability to obtain the data it needs to detect terrorist plots without infringing on Americans’ right to privacy.
Congress failed to advance similar legislation last year, and some officials say the agency should not face new constraints at a time of deep concern over the threat from terrorist groups such as the Islamic State.
But given the politics on the Hill, in which liberal Democrats and libertarian Republicans have made common cause, leaders on both sides of the Capitol appear to recognize that maintaining the NSA’s current authorities might not be tenable.
The government’s underlying authority to conduct bulk collection expires on June 1, with the “sunsetting” of Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act.
The act was passed after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, to give law enforcement and intelligence officials more tools to thwart terrorist threats. But it was also to secretly authorize a sweeping collection of Americans’ phone records. The disclosure of the program in June 2013 prompted a backlash and led President Obama to call for changes that would end the NSA’s collection while at the same time preserving its access to the records of terrorist suspects.