Republicans in sneaky bid to reauthorize Patriot Act spying until 2020

Bill to keep mass snooping alive bypasses traditional committee oversight

The US Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has introduced a bill to reauthorize Section 215 of the Patriot Act to allow mass surveillance of innocent American citizens until December 31, 2020.

Section 215 is due to expire on June 1, and there are going to be various attempts to either reform or abandon the provision. The law gives legal cover to the NSA for its massive database of US cellphone records, among other things.

The bill [congress.gov] was quietly introduced on Tuesday evening, and is expected to be pushed through using the senate's rule 14, allowing it to bypass the committee stage used to refine legislation. It is cosponsored by Senator Richard Burr (R-NC), who heads up the Senate Intelligence Committee that is supposed to ensure oversight of government spies.

The two senators are both big fans of the US intelligence community, and McConnell has said repeatedly in the past that he would like to see the Patriot Act permanently enshrined in US law as a bulwark against terrorism. Last year he worked actively to kill the USA FREEDOM Act, which would have introduced slight curbs to mass data collection.

"The biggest hero to emerge from the hearings before the 9-11 Commission has been the Patriot Act," he said in Congress when the Patriot Act was up for reauthorization in 2006.

Senator Burr has also been forthright in his support for the intelligence community. Before assuming the Intelligence Committee chairmanship Burr said he would prefer that no further public investigations be held into the intelligence agencies in the future.

The bill is not a done deal. Not only are competing pieces of legislation in the pipeline to reform or abolish Section 215, McConnell may have problems getting the Republican caucus to follow his bill.

Senators Rand Paul (R-KY) and Ted Cruz (R-TX) are both running for president in 2016, and both opposed the reauthorization of the Patriot Act on the grounds that it is unwarranted government intrusion. Getting them and their supporters onside could be a major challenge for McConnell and his cronies. ®

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