White House asks Congress to pass NSA reform legislation

White House asks Congress to pass NSA reform legislation
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The White House on Thursday endorsed a bill that would reform the National Security Agency’s controversial bulk data collection program. 

Press secretary Josh Earnest said Congress should pass the USA Freedom Act, which has support from Democrats and Republicans in both chambers. 

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“POTUS believes we must be vigilant on terror threat; also said surveillance needed reform & he meant it,” Earnest wrote on Twitter.

Obama’s backing of the legislation increases the possibility of a showdown with Republican leaders as Congress faces a June 1 deadline to renew parts of the Patriot Act that are set to expire. 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and GOP security hawks oppose the USA Freedom Act, saying the surveillance programs are critical for identifying national security threats. 

At the same time, McConnell is pushing for a “clean” extension of the Patriot Act that would keep intact Section 215, which authorizes the bulk data collection program. The White House has stopped short of threatening a veto of McConnell’s bill, but called for changes that would repeal Section 215. 

The USA Freedom Act would effectively 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, among other changes.

The USA Freedom Act has received a tepid reaction from advocates who want stricter limits on the NSA’s surveillance powers. 

Opponents of the NSA program received a boost on Thursday when a federal appeals court ruled that the agency’s bulk collection of Americans’ phone records is illegal. 

National Security Council spokesman Ned Price said the White House is “in the process of evaluating the decision handed down this morning,” but urged Congress to move forward with reform.

“Without commenting on the ruling today, the president has been clear that he believes we should end the Section 215 bulk telephony metadata program as it currently exists by creating an alternative mechanism to preserve the program’s essential capabilities without the government holding the bulk data,” he said.