New bill would delay Freedom Act; let NSA to keep storing Americans’ phone data

© Jason Reed
A Republican senator from Arkansas has submitted a bill that would extend the NSA’s ability to collect Americans’ phone metadata by more than a year. Tom Cotton insisted the last week’s terror attacks in Paris proved the value of such spying activities.

Cotton introduced his bill, titled the Liberty Through Strength Act, on Tuesday, which proposes postponing the “transition timeline in the USA FREEDOM Act until after January 31, 2017.”

“If we take anything from the Paris attacks, it should be that vigilance and safety go hand-in-hand,” Cotton said in a statement. “Now is not the time to sacrifice our national security for political talking points. We should allow the Intelligence Community to do their job and provide them with the tools they need to keep us safe.”

Criticizing President Barack Obama’s “empty policy of tough talk and little action” towards Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL), Cotton insisted the US would benefit from the National Security Agency’s data collection, both in its fight against terrorism and providing safety.

“Passing the Liberty Through Strength Act will empower the NSA to uncover threats against the United States and our allies, help keep terrorists out of the United States, and track down those responsible in the wake of the Paris terrorist attacks,” Cotton said.

The Senator argued that the USA Freedom Act is going to be “less effective” than the Patriot Act, as the “untested, hypothetical” legislation ties the hands of the intelligence community, which he claims will prevent it from tracking terrorist communications. He argued the transition will “occur less than two weeks from today, at a time when our threat level is incredibly high.”

The Senate passed the new Freedom Act in June. When it comes into effect on December 1, the NSA will be prohibited from collecting Americans’ phone metadata in bulk. It requires electronic communication providers to hold onto call records, instead of automatically handing them over to the intelligence community.

If approved, Cotton’s bill would also make “permanent the USA PATRIOT Act’s ‘lone wolf’ and roving wiretap provisions.” The notorious Section 215 of the Patriot Act that expired last summer permitted the government to conduct “roving wiretaps” of suspects who switch communication devices, as well as spy on “lone wolf” individuals who are not affiliated with an international terrorist organization.

The extent of the mass surveillance program was revealed by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden in 2013, prompting US lawmakers to reconsider the legislation.

On Monday, CIA Director John Brennan implicated Snowden’s “unauthorized disclosures” in making it possible for the Paris attackers to carry out their assault without being detected by intelligence or police authorities beforehand.

“In the past several years, because of a number of unauthorized disclosures and a lot of handwringing over the government’s role in the effort to try to uncover these terrorists, there have been some policy and legal and other actions that are taken to make our ability collectively internationally to find these terrorists much more challenging…” Brennan said.

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, a Republican presidential candidate, has also called for restoring the NSA’s ability to continue collecting telephone and internet records.

However, the latest reports show that at least one of the men who was involved in the Paris mayhem, Salah Abdeslam, was known to the authorities prior to the attack. Abdeslam is suspected of driving the Bataclan killers to their destination and possibly even took part in the street shooting. He was reportedly on a Belgian watch list of suspected radicals, yet was never questioned by authorities, even though the business he ran had been identified by law enforcement as a place where drugs were consumed and sold.

Abdeslam was also stopped three times while being driven away from Paris after the attacks took place, but was not detained or interrogated.