House Votes to End N.S.A.’s Bulk Phone Data

WASHINGTON — The House on Wednesday overwhelmingly approved legislation to end the federal government’s bulk collection of phone records, exerting enormous pressure on Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, who insists that existing dragnet sweeps continue in defiance of many of those in his Republican Party.

Under the bipartisan bill, which passed, the Patriot Act would be changed to prohibit bulk collection by the National Security Agency of metadata charting telephone calls made by Americans. In addition, the legislation would bar permitting bulk collection of records using other tools like so-called national security letters, which are a kind of administrative subpoena.

The near unanimity in the House is not reflected in the Senate, where a bipartisan group that backs the House bill faces opposition from Mr. McConnell and a small but powerful group of defense hawks who want no change, and from another faction led by Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky, that is pressing for even greater restrictions of data collection.

A compromise of some form must be reached before June 1, when the provision of the Patriot Act that allows the N.S.A. dragnet expires.

“I think we have found an equilibrium on how to protect both security and privacy,” said Representative Adam B. Schiff of California, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee. “These issues are not going away. I think the fact that the public is becoming much more united on how we balance these dual imperatives has ripened in a very constructive way.”


The debate over the issue, which intensified after the surveillance efforts were exposed by Edward J. Snowden, was complicated by a federal appeals court ruling last week that found the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of phone records illegal, and an impending expiration of the Patriot Act the end of the month.


In a demonstration of the complexity of the dynamics among Republicans, three of the party’s contenders for the White House hold disparate positions on the bill.


Mr. McConnell has proclaimed that the legislation that passed the House, with strong support of Speaker John A. Boehner “will neither keep us safe, nor protect our privacy.”


However, it is clear that Mr. McConnell, whose efforts to advance President Obama’s trade agenda fell flat this week on a procedural vote, does not have enough support in the Senate to pass a straight reauthorization of the Patriot Act. The House bill, however, appeared to have a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate.


“We have an obligation to protect the constitutional rights of every American,” said Senator Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas. “The USA Freedom Act ends the federal government’s bulk collection of phone metadata from millions of law-abiding citizens. That’s the right thing to do.”


Source: New York Times