And we just got word that this vote could happen in the Senate as soon as tomorrow.
ICYMI: Section 215 of the Patriot Act is a dangerous spying authority that allows the U.S. government to collect highly sensitive information without a warrant about people living in the United States — like details on our phone calls, location data, medical records and financial transactions.
How did we get here?
Back in March, after House leaders refused to allow a debate on real privacy reforms and instead forced through a floor vote while lawmakers scrambled to respond to the oncoming pandemic, the USA Freedom Reauthorization Act passed the House.
But it did not pass easily. Over 130 representatives voted against the bill in a strong showing of bipartisan opposition because it lacked sufficient privacy safeguards. When it moved to the Senate floor just before it was scheduled to expire, privacy champions blocked the effort to ram the reauthorization through and ultimately the authority went dark.
McConnell was grudgingly forced to make a deal with the bipartisan group of senators: They would agree to a short-term extension in exchange for a public debate over amendments. McConnell agreed to allow three privacy-strengthening amendments and three that would preserve the bill’s invasive spying powers.
What’s happening now?
In their rush to get back to their districts, House lawmakers failed to pick up the Senate’s deal and Section 215 was ultimately not reauthorized. But McConnell is hellbent on resurrecting the lapsed authority and is trying to move the USA Freedom Reauthorization Act of 2020 through the Senate right now and revive the Patriot Act for the Trump administration.
Privacy advocates like Free Press Action have been fighting for years to end or rein in the dangerous spying practices authorized by Section 215. We celebrated a victory when these spying authorities expired in March, but now we’ve got to fight to get the good amendments passed and block the bad ones.
The reauthorization bill that McConnell has introduced is unacceptable in its current form.
The three strong privacy amendments agreed to in March were introduced by Sens. Steve Daines (R–Montana), Mike Lee (R–Utah), Patrick Leahy (D–Vermont), Rand Paul (R–Kentucky) and Ron Wyden (D–Oregon). They must be adopted to protect the privacy of people in the United States. Without critical reforms, the Senate should oppose the bill and leave Section 215 dark.
Your senators need to hear from you to move these crucial protections forward and we have less than 24 hours to pressure the Senate to make this happen.
To be clear, we would oppose extension of these spying authorities under any administration, but they are particularly dangerous under Trump. We’ve seen leak after leak revealing that this administration is unlawfully targeting communities of color and racial-justice protesters.
The civil-rights and civil-liberties communities have decried the government’s abuse of its surveillance powers — in particular Section 215 — for decades. The Trump administration poses a dire threat to the most policed communities in America. If the pro-privacy amendments are not adopted, senators must oppose this bill.
This is our last chance to rein in these massive spying powers and keep them out of the hands of the Trump administration. Call your senators today and tell them not to reauthorize the Patriot Act without amendments that would protect your privacy. All you have to do is dial (202) 919-7073 and our call tool will connect you with your lawmakers. And if your senator doesn’t answer, please leave a voicemail.