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WH stops short of veto threat on 'clean' Patriot Act renewal

WH stops short of veto threat on 'clean' Patriot Act renewal
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The White House on Wednesday stopped short of issuing a veto threat against a Republican bill that would extend controversial surveillance provisions of the Patriot Act. 
 
But President Obama is seeking changes that would end Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which the National Security Agency has used to carry out its bulk collection of Americans’ phone records. 
 
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“The president has been quite definitive about the need to make those kinds of reforms a top priority,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters Wednesday. 
 
That could set up a high-stakes confrontation between the White House and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellLawmakers feel pressure on guns Bipartisan group of House lawmakers urge action on Export-Import Bank nominees Curbelo Dem rival lashes out over immigration failure MORE (R-Ky.) over the nation’s spying capabilities with portions of the Patriot Act set to expire June 1. 
 
 
The measure has attracted support from national security hawks in the GOP. Intelligence officials say the data collection powers are critical to tracking terrorist threats. 
 
But Earnest applauded a bipartisan measure introduced this week in the House and Senate that would end the NSA’s existing phone-records collection program. Instead, it would require the agency to obtain a court order before collecting records from phone companies.
 
The White House will continue to review the bill, known as the USA Freedom Act, before offering its full support, but it is “gratified that some of those reforms are included” in it, Earnest said. 
 
Privacy advocates say the existing data collection program, which was revealed by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, infringes on Americans’ civil liberties. The USA Freedom Act has received a tepid reaction from advocates who want sweeping changes to the NSA’s surveillance powers. 
 
The American Civil Liberties Union said the measure does not go far enough. 
 
Last year, Obama placed new limits on the NSA’s controversial data collection program, including judicial review of records requests. But so far, Congress has not been able to enact permanent NSA reform. 
 
“The president and the administration are seeking to work in bipartisan fashion with members of the House and Senate to incorporate reforms that protect the civil liberties of the American people while ensuring that our intelligence and national security officials have the tools they need to keep us safe,” Earnest said.