- The Washington Times - Friday, December 5, 2014

President Obama has a Friday deadline to decide whether to halt his NSA phone-snooping program or to keep it going, and after Congress failed to stop it last month some lawmakers now say the White House should pull the plug on its own.

The Senate had a chance to kill the program outright last month, but Republican senators filibustered, giving the snooping a renewed lease on life.

Still, the administration must seek approval every 90 days from the secret court that oversees intelligence activities, and the current 90-day period expires on Friday, creating a decision for Mr. Obama.

“The president can end the NSA’s dragnet collection of Americans’ phone records once and for all by not seeking reauthorization of this program by the FISA Court, and once again, I urge him to do just that,” said Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Mr. Leahy was the chief sponsor of the bill that would have nixed the intelligence community’s bulk collection abilities under the Patriot Act, which is the authority the administration cites for the National Security Agency phone-snooping. Under that program, the NSA stores five years’ worth of records of Americans’ phone calls, including the numbers involved and the time and duration.

The data is supposed to only be checked when officials believe a number is associated with terrorism.

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence said it will release information if it does request another extension of its authority.

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence didn’t immediately respond to a message seeking comment Fridaymorning on the administration’s plans.

Mr. Obama has called for the phone-snooping program to be curtailed, and has taken steps to limit it, including lowering the number of “hops,” or connections, investigators can go from the initial number they are investigating. The president also asked that the Justice Department try to ask the secret court for permission before querying the data.

The White House wants phone companies to store the data, which would keep it out of government hands but still make it available when investigators needed to poke through it.

A bill to curb bulk collection passed the House earlier this year, but GOP senators filibustered last month to block a similar bill. Most of them argued that the ability to snoop through phone records was too vital at a time when the U.S. is facing the rise of the Islamic State and lone-wolf terror attacks.

But Sen. Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican who opposed the bulk snooping, voted for the filibuster as well. He wants to see the entire Patriot Act bulk collection authority, contained in Section 215 of the Patriot Act, expire, and said the NSA bill would have actually renewed that provision, even as it ended the NSA program.

The Section 215 authority expires in June, so without any action from Congress, it’s possible the NSA program and the broader bulk collection powers all will end next year anyway.

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