WASHINGTON (CBSDC/AP) — Attorney General Loretta Lynch believes the United States will be “less safe” if Congress doesn’t reauthorize the Patriot Act.
Speaking to “CBS This Morning,” Lynch expressed concerns about not allowing the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of millions of Americans’ phone records.
“My biggest fear … is that we will lose important eyes on people who have made it clear … that their mission is to harm American people here and abroad,” Lynch said.
She continued, “I think that we run the risk … of essentially being less safe. I think that we lose important tools. I think that we lose the ability to intercept these communications, which have proven very important in cases that we have built in the past. I am very concerned that the American people will be unprotected if this law expires. I’m hopeful, however, that Congress, who I know is working on this issue, will come to a resolution.”
Lynch’s comments come as the Senate is set to vote today on the expiring sections of the Patriot Act.
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has opposed the House bill to reauthorize the post-Sept. 11 law while significantly changing the NSA’s bulk collection, preferring to simply renew the Patriot Act. But he told reporters Tuesday that he will allow a vote on the measure that passed the House overwhelmingly last week and has the backing of the Obama administration.
“Regardless of what the House’s position may be, we have an obligation to deal with the Patriot Act,” the Kentucky Republican said. “And we’re going to deal with it this week. And it’s my view that letting it expire is not a responsible thing to do.”
Former NSA contractor Edward Snowden’s revelations about the NSA program spurred some Republicans and Democrats to demand an end to the bulk collection.
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., held a marathon talk of more than 10 hours on Wednesday to voice his opposition against the NSA and reauthorization of the Patriot Act.
Wednesday’s performance wasn’t an official filibuster because the bill before the Senate dealt with trade, not surveillance. Still, by never sitting or yielding the floor, Paul kept senators from talking on other topics.
Paul opposes renewal of key sections of the Patriot Act, which the government cites to authorize the massive examination of who calls who on American phones. The government does not collect the content of the calls. Those sections are set to expire June 1.
The Republican-controlled House voted overwhelmingly to end bulk collection of phone data but to allow surveillance on a case-by-case basis if a special court approves. President Barack Obama supports that change. Paul says it doesn’t go far enough.
Last week, the House backed the USA Freedom Act, which would replace bulk collection with a system to search the data held by telephone companies on a case-by-case basis. The vote was 338-88, and House Republican and Democratic leaders have insisted on their bill.
“The House had an overwhelmingly large vote for the USA Freedom Act. It’s time for the Senate to act,” Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, told reporters on Tuesday.
The law expires in less than two weeks. If Congress fails to act, several key provisions would expire, including the bulk collection; a provision allowing so-called roving wiretaps, which the FBI uses for criminals who frequently switch cellphones, and a third that makes it easier to obtain a warrant to target a “lone wolf” terror suspect who has no provable links to a terrorist organization.
“Everything stops. It’ll just go out of being,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, the top Democrat on the Intelligence committee, said of the implication of the law’s expiration.
McConnell made no predictions about the outcome of the Senate vote on the House measure.
“If there are not enough votes to pass that, then we need to look at an alternative,” he said.
Siding with McConnell are GOP senators and presidential hopefuls Marco Rubio of Florida and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and other candidates have taken positions somewhere between McConnell and Paul.
FBI director James Comey said it’s important that surveillance authority not expire altogether. He said the FBI must be allowed to ask a special judge for “an order in a case-by-case (basis) for particular documents or records.” And he said his agency needs authority to “get a roving wiretap order” when “we encounter a spy or a terrorist who is dropping phones, dropping phones, dropping phones.”
(TM and © Copyright 2015 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2015 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)