Last night, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Select Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr introduced a bill to extend Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act through 2020. The bill, numbered S. 1035, would not make any reform to Sec. 215 at all. The McConnell/Burr bill comes as both the House and Senate are working on legislation that would end the National Security Agency’s (NSA) mass surveillance under Sec. 215. The Center for Democracy & Technology (CDT) strongly opposes McConnell’s bill.
“The Senate Majority Leader’s bill would keep the American people under warrantless mass government surveillance,” said CDT Senior Counsel Harley Geiger. “The bill makes no attempt to protect Americans’ privacy or reform ongoing NSA surveillance programs that do not provide any tangible benefit to national security.”
The FBI and NSA use Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act as the legal justification for the large-scale collection of records of phone calls to, from and within the United States, including the phone calls records of millions of Americans with no connection to a crime or terrorism. The Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, as well as the President’s Review Group, determined that the NSA’s bulk collection program made no concrete difference to the outcomes of terrorism investigations. Section 215 is broadly worded, covering all business records of Americans – including medical records, firearm sales records, library and book sale records, credit card purchase information, Internet behavior data, and more.
“This bill completely ignores Americans’ concerns about the erosion of constitutional protections and increasing government intrusion into their lives,” Geiger added. “Congress should act decisively to end the NSA’s bulk collection of communication records, not endorse it,” Geiger added.