- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky is threatening a filibuster as key parts of the Patriot Act come up for reauthorization in the coming weeks, while the Obama administration put itself on the record Tuesday as calling for a rewrite of the contentious law.

The Bush and Obama administrations have cited Section 215 of the post-9/11 law as justification for National Security Agency’s bulk collection of data, but the law is set to expire June 1. Mr. Paul, a longtime critic of government surveillance programs, vowed this week to prevent its extension, contrary to the stance of some of his 2016 Republican presidential rivals and the party’s Senate leadership.

“I’m going to lead the charge in the next couple of weeks as the Patriot Act comes forward,” Mr. Paul told the New Hampshire Union Leader. “We will be filibustering. We will be trying to stop it. We are not going to let them run over us. And we are going to demand amendments and we are going to make sure the American people know that some of us at least are opposed to unlawful searches.”

A federal appeals court said last week that the NSA’s phone-snooping program is not authorized by the Patriot Act, though it said it would allow the government to keep collecting data for now.

Meanwhile, Mr. Obama’s White House Office of Management and Budget issued a new statement of administration policy Tuesday that urges Congress to adopt reforms that would end warrantless bulk collection powers, effectively nixing his NSA’s phone-snooping program.

The National Security Agency’s phone-data program collects the numbers, times and durations of calls made within the U.S. and stores them for five years. The information, which doesn’t include contents of the calls, is supposed to only be delved into when investigators believe a specific number is associated with terrorism.

SEE ALSO: Mitch McConnell delays NSA snooping debate in bid for full Patriot Act extension

Mr. Obama is backing the USA Freedom Act, which is poised for a House vote later this week, calling it a good balance.

“The bill strengthens … privacy and civil liberties protections, while preserving essential authorities our intelligence and law enforcement professionals need to protect the nation,” the administration statement said.

Mr. Obama’s backing adds heft to the USA Freedom Act, and further isolates Senate Republicans led by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

The Kentucky Republican, who argues the NSA program is critical for the fight against potential terrorism plots, wants to extend the Patriot Act as-is. If no action is taken before June 1, the entire Section 215 — which is broader than just bulk collection — would expire, and Mr. McConnell is hoping to use clock pressure to force colleagues to accept his extension.

Mr. Paul famously took to the Senate floor for almost 13 hours in March 2013 to filibuster the nomination of CIA Director John O. Brennan, demanding to know whether the administration believed it was legal to use drones to kill non-combatant Americans on U.S. soil.

Besides Mr. McConnell, Mr. Paul’s filibuster vow sets him against both Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, a 2016 presidential-primary rival who has defended the NSA’s metadata program, and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who also has spoken positively of the program.

Sen. Ron Wyden, Oregon Democrat, said on MSNBC that he, too, would plan to filibuster a short-term extension if it doesn’t have major reforms, notably on collection of phone records.

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