'Enough is enough,' say Senate critics of NSA
© Getty Images

Critics of NSA spying in the Senate mounted an aggressive rebuttal Tuesday of Republicans who are pushing for a “clean” reauthorization of powers under the Patriot Act.

In a series of speeches, Sens. Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeHillicon Valley: Trump AG pick signals new scrutiny on tech giants | Wireless providers in new privacy storm | SEC brings charges in agency hack | Facebook to invest 0M in local news AG pick Barr wants closer scrutiny of Silicon Valley 'behemoths' Grassroots political participation is under attack in Utah and GOP is fighting back MORE (R-Utah), Steve Daines (R-Mont.), Dean HellerDean Arthur HellerTrump’s shifting Cabinet to introduce new faces Trump's most memorable insults and nicknames of 2018 Progressive strategist says changing demographics will help Dems MORE (R-Nev.) Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyGOP insiders knock their depictions in new Dick Cheney biopic ‘Vice’ Barr: It would be a crime for president to pardon someone in exchange for their silence Barr says Trump won't be allowed to 'correct' Mueller report MORE (D-Vt.) all made the case for curbing the NSA's bulk collection of phone data, arguing the program is a threat to people’s rights.

ADVERTISEMENT

"We know that for years the NSA collected metadata about billions of emails sent by innocent Americans using the same justification," Leahy said. "Should we allow the government to sweep up all of our credit card records? All of our banking or medical records?... Enough is enough."

The five senators support the USA Freedom Act, which is coming up for a vote in the House this week. The bill would end the NSA’s bulk collection of information about calls made in the U.S. and require the agency to obtain the data from private companies using a "specific selection term."

Lee said that even assuming the NSA isn’t abusing its surveillance powers now, there's no guarantee agency officials won't step out of bounds in the future.

"Who's to say that the NSA will always be inhabited by such people? Who's to say what the state of affairs will be a year from now?" he said. "We know in time that people tend to abuse these government programs. ... It's not a question of if things like this will be abused, it's a question of when."

Leahy added that he does not "accept that they will be very careful to make sure nothing happens to the secret data."

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellTSA agents protest government shutdown at Pittsburgh airport The case for Russia sanctions Pompeo planning to meet with Pat Roberts amid 2020 Senate speculation MORE (R-Ky.) has rejected the USA Freedom Act and is instead pushing the "clean" legislation, which would reauthorize the expiring portions of the Patriot Act for five years without changes.

McConnell and Republican Sens. Richard BurrRichard Mauze BurrHillicon Valley: Senate panel subpoenas Roger Stone associate | Streaming giants hit with privacy complaints in Europe | FTC reportedly discussing record fine for Facebook | PayPal offering cash advances to unpaid federal workers Senate panel subpoenas Roger Stone associate Jerome Corsi Manafort developments trigger new ‘collusion’ debate MORE (N.C.), Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioOvernight Defense: Second Trump-Kim summit planned for next month | Pelosi accuses Trump of leaking Afghanistan trip plans | Pentagon warns of climate threat to bases | Trump faces pressure to reconsider Syria exit Pressure mounts for Trump to reconsider Syria withdrawal Senate Republicans eye rules change to speed Trump nominees MORE (Fla.) and Tom CottonThomas (Tom) Bryant CottonOn The Money: Shutdown Day 26 | Pelosi calls on Trump to delay State of the Union | Cites 'security concerns' | DHS chief says they can handle security | Waters lays out agenda | Senate rejects effort to block Trump on Russia sanctions Senate rejects effort to block Trump on Russia sanctions Overnight Defense: Trump faces blowback over report he discussed leaving NATO | Pentagon extends mission on border | Senate advances measure bucking Trump on Russia sanctions MORE (Ark.), defended the NSA surveillance in floor speeches last week, arguing the program is necessary to help protect America from another terrorist attack.  

Heller on Tuesday said supporters of the USA Freedom Act are "not here to strip the intelligence community of the tools to fight terrorism. ...What we are here to do is to provide the American people with the certainty that the federal government is working without violating their constitutional rights."

Last week, the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals handed a victory to opponents of the NSA program. It declared that the Patriot Act’s Section 215 did not authorize the NSA to engage in sweeping collection of U.S. phone records and is therefore illegal.

Senators face a deadline of June 1, when the Patriot Act provisions expire.