Times, Post plea for NSA reform passage

Editorial boards at The New York Times and The Washington Post made a final call for lawmakers in the Senate to pass a bill reforming the National Security Agency, when it comes up for a vote on Tuesday.

Both newspapers’ editorials on Tuesday said the USA Freedom Act was not perfect but made a good stab at reining in the spy agency.

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“Neither national security hawks nor civil libertarians get everything they want from the legislation, which means it could fail to get the 60 votes it needs to advance, or it could get pulled too far in one direction or another during an open amendment process after that,” the Post wrote. “Either road to demise would be unfortunate: The bill deserves to be approved, reconciled with a House-approved version and sent to President Obama.” 

The USA Freedom Act, which was written by Sen. Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyDemocrats introduce bill to reverse Trump's shift of military money toward wall Republicans give Barr vote of confidence Democratic senators ask DOJ watchdog to expand Giuliani probe MORE (D-Vt.), would end the NSA’s collection of bulk metadata from Americans’ phone calls and require agency officials to get a court order before pulling records about individuals from private phone companies. It also adds a panel of privacy advocates to the secretive federal surveillance court, which currently only hears arguments from the government.

It needs to receive 60 votes in order to overcome a filibuster on Tuesday, and several watchers were unsure whether it would meet that bar.

If lawmakers fail to advance the bill, similar legislation will have to be considered next year, before provisions of the Patriot Act expire in June and kill some of the NSA’s programs entirely. Intelligence officials say that outcome would be disastrous.  

In its editorial, the Times warned against putting the fight off until next year.

“The Republican Party is so badly fractured that it is impossible to tell what steps it will take on domestic surveillance once it assumes control of Congress in January,” the newspaper wrote

“If the bill doesn’t pass in the current lame-duck session of the Senate, still controlled by Democrats, it may never get past the 60-vote hurdle in the next session of Congress.”

The Times’s tone was similar to the White House, which on Monday urged lawmakers to pass the USA Freedom in order to avoid “brinksmanship and uncertainty.”