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Senators stall vote to extend NSA phone records dragnet

Grant Gross | May 21, 2015
Four U.S. senators ground the chamber's business to a halt Wednesday in an effort to prevent lawmakers from voting on a bill to extend portions of the Patriot Act used to collect telephone and business records from the country's residents.

The Senate is scheduled to vote Friday afternoon on a fast-track trade bill. Paul potentially could control the Senate floor until then. Paul took the Senate floor at 1:18 p.m. EST Wednesday and spoke for about two hours and 25 minutes before Wyden joined him on the floor. The filibuster continued late Wednesday.

Earlier this month, the House of Representatives passed the USA Freedom Act, a bill aimed at ending the NSA's bulk collection of U.S. phone records, while allowing the agency to continue collecting U.S. data in a more targeted manner. But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, like Paul a Kentucky Republican, has pushed for a straight renewal of Section 215 of the Patriot Act with no new limits on NSA records collection.

McConnell on Tuesday said the Senate has an obligation to vote on the Patriot Act before the Memorial Day break, by either voting on the USA Freedom Act or an alternative.

"It's my view that letting it expire is not a responsible thing to do," McConnell said on Tuesday. "What I think is the most important thing is to make sure we still have a program, a program that works, and helps protect the American people from attacks. That's the bottom line here."

Meanwhile, a coalition of digital rights groups called for nationwide sunset vigils at 7 p.m. Thursday to oppose an extension of Section 215 of the Patriot Act. Participating groups include Demand Progress, Fight for the Future and Free Press. The vigil in Washington will be on the west lawn of the Capitol Building.

 

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