From The Guardian:
With about 45 days remaining before a major post-9/11 surveillance authorization expires, representatives of the National Security Agency and the FBI are taking to Capitol Hill to convince legislators to preserve their sweeping spy powers.
That effort effectively re-inaugurates a surveillance debate in Congress that has spent much of 2015 behind closed doors. Within days, congressional sources tell the Guardian, the premiere NSA reform bill of the last Congress, known as the USA Freedom Act, is set for reintroduction – and this time, some former supporters fear the latest version of the bill will squander an opportunity for even broader surveillance reform.
Republican leaders of the House intelligence committee arranged for NSA and FBI representatives to hold secret briefings for members of Congress on Tuesday and Wednesday. Staff did not name the officials addressing legislators.
The classified briefings come amid an unsettled surveillance debate in Congress that rushes up against an unforgiving deadline. On 1 June, Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which permits US law enforcement and surveillance agencies to collect business records, expires.
“Re-inaugurates a surveillance debate in Congress that has spent much of 2015 behind closed doors”
Section 215 is the authority claimed by the NSA since 2006 for its ongoing daily bulk collection of US phone records revealed by the Guardian in 2013 thanks to leaks from whistleblower Edward Snowden. While the Obama administration and US intelligence agencies last year supported divesting the NSA of its domestic phone metadata collection, a bill to do so failed in November.
But the FBI and its supporters fear that the expiration of Section 215 will cut deeper than the loss of bulk collection. The FBI is warning that it will lose access to investigative leads for domestic terrorism and espionage, such as credit card information, hotel records and more, outside normal warrant or subpoena channels.
While the briefings were not described as a platform for defending the controversial Section 215, they “offer an important opportunity to hear directly from analysts and operators who use Section 215 as part of their daily mission to protect the Nation from terrorist attacks,” according to an announcement for legislators sent by intelligence committee chairman Devin Nunes and Georgia Republican Lynn Westmoreland and obtained by the Guardian.
Civil-libertarian members who attended left unsatisfied.
“Our questions about constitutionality and legality were answered with statements of efficacy. We said, ‘How can this possibly be legal?’ and they would say, ‘this program works great, here’s how it’s helping us catch terrorists,’” Representative Thomas Massie, a Kentucky Republican, told the Guardian.
Yet with Section 215’s lifespan now stretching to a matter of weeks, supporters of broad surveillance powers have yet to put forth a bill for their preservation – evidence, opponents believe, that the votes for reauthorization do not exist, particularly not in the House of Representatives.