'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 LeeStop asking parents to sacrifice Social Security benefits for paid family leave The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump hits media over New Zealand coverage GOP moves to rein in president's emergency powers MORE (R-Utah), Steve Daines (R-Mont.), Dean HellerDean Arthur HellerTrump suggests Heller lost reelection bid because he was 'hostile' during 2016 presidential campaign Trump picks ex-oil lobbyist David Bernhardt for Interior secretary Oregon Dem top recipient of 2018 marijuana industry money, study finds MORE (R-Nev.) Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyTop Senate Dem to Trump: It would be a 'grave mistake' to follow in Richard Nixon's footsteps Booker takes early lead in 2020 endorsements Hillicon Valley: Mueller delivers report, ending investigation | FEMA exposed info of 2.3M disaster survivors | Facebook asks judge to toss DC privacy lawsuit | Trump picks his first CTO | FCC settles lawsuit over net neutrality records 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 McConnellLessons from the 1999 U.S. military intervention in Kosovo Five things to watch as AIPAC conference kicks off Romney helps GOP look for new path on climate change 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 BurrTrump, Congress brace for Mueller findings GOP's Tillis comes under pressure for taking on Trump Warner says there are 'enormous amounts of evidence' suggesting Russia collusion MORE (N.C.), Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioCountdown clock is on for Mueller conclusions Rubio wants 'all' of Mueller report made public including founding documents Rubio: Trump reversal on North Korea sanctions 'shouldn't have happened that way' MORE (Fla.) and Tom CottonThomas (Tom) Bryant CottonSenate rejects border declaration in major rebuke of Trump Hillicon Valley: Doctors press tech to crack down on anti-vax content | Facebook, Instagram suffer widespread outages | Spotify hits Apple with antitrust complaint | FCC rejects calls to delay 5G auction Senate votes to confirm Neomi Rao to appeals court 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.