Mitch McConnell Intends To Extend Surveillance Plan

05/18/2015 03:45 pm ET | Updated May 18, 2016
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(Adds background, White House comment.)

By Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON, May 18 (Reuters) - U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on Monday he intends to "responsibly extend" this week the provisions of the USA Patriot Act due to expire on June 1.

The provisions underpin the program in which U.S. spy agencies collect vast amount of data about Americans' phone calls. Members of Congress have been debating whether to extend the program for two months or five years, allow it to expire or pass reforms.

McConnell has said he would like to extend the program, as is, through 2020. But facing stiff resistance from many lawmakers, including some of his fellow Republicans as well as many Democrats, he introduced a measure last week that would extend the Patriot Act provisions for two months.

Some lawmakers have vowed to block even that temporary extension.

Many members of the Senate would also like to vote on the USA Freedom Act, which the House of Representatives passed by an overwhelming margin last week. That bill would end the bulk collection and instead give intelligence agencies access to telephone data and other records when a court finds there is reasonable suspicion about a link to international terrorism.

McConnell has not yet said whether the Senate will vote on the Freedom Act.

The National Security Agency's bulk collection of telephone "metadata" has worried privacy advocates since it was first exposed two years ago by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, who is now a fugitive in Russia.

A spokesman for the White House, which supports the Freedom Act, did not support the idea of a short-term extension when asked about it on Monday.

"Our strategy on these important intelligence matters is to not kick the can down the road," White House spokesman Eric Schultz said.

"Congress has known of this impending deadline for months and months. The June 1 expiration should not be taking anyone by surprise," Schultz said.

The program will expire if Congress does not act before it leaves Washington this week for a 10-day recess. (Additional reporting by Roberta Rampton; Editing by Doina Chiacu)

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