Senate Vote Due on USA FREEDOM Act

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The battle over the USA FREEDOM Act is coming down to the wire in Congress.

Key sections of the USA PATRIOT Act are set to expire on June 1. The U.S. House of Representatives has overwhelmingly approved the FREEDOM Act, which extends the expiring sections for four years but includes protections for the privacy of personal information, including bookstore and library records.

However, there may not be enough votes to pass this new legislation in the Senate. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) opposes it because he believes the privacy reforms in the bill will weaken national security.

The American Booksellers for Free Expression (ABFE) is urging booksellers to call their senators today to urge support for the FREEDOM Act (S. 1123). ABFE is co-sponsoring Fight215, a website that makes it easy to connect with senators‘ offices.

McConnell has introduced a bill extending the PATRIOT Act without changes for five years. He is also sponsoring legislation providing a two-month extension to permit further negotiation regarding extending the PATRIOT Act. But there may not be enough votes in Congress for even a temporary extension.

If Congress deadlocks, three sections of the PATRIOT Act will expire, including Section 215. Since this is something that few in Congress desire, it would set the stage for fevered negotiations over new legislation when members return from their Memorial Day recess.

Support for changes in the PATRIOT Act has been growing since whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed that the National Security Agency has been using Section 215 to collect the telephone records of millions of Americans. On May 13, the House passed the FREEDOM Act by a vote of 338–88. Many of the representatives who voted against it want even stronger privacy protections.

Public support for PATRIOT Act reform also appears to be increasing. The American Civil Liberties Union released the results of a poll this week that showed that 60 percent of Americans support changes in the PATRIOT Act “to limit government surveillance and protect Americans’ privacy.” Among those who described themselves as “very conservative,” 59 percent support reform.