A Republican senator has interrupted debate on legislation allowing US agencies to spy on Americans. According to the Justice Department, lawmakers must act by Friday.
Senator Rand Paul took to the Senate floor Wednesday to deliver an extended speech designed to close debate on allowing bulk collection of phone data from millions of Americans by the National Security Agency (NSA), one of the most intrusive provisions on the USA Patriot Act. The Republican presidential candidate's campaign sent out a fundraising plea as he took the podium at 1:18 p.m. (1718 UTC).
"There comes a time in the history of nations when fear and complacency allow power to accumulate and liberty and privacy to suffer," Paul said.
Other senators, including Democrat Ron Wyden, joined Paul, who spoke for 10 hours and 30 minutes. In March 2013, he gave a 13-hour Senate speech to oppose President Barack Obama's drone policy, cut short, he said at the time, only by the limits of his bladder.
Congress passed the USA Patriot Act - short for Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism - after the September 11, 2001, attacks. Edward Snowden, a former NSA contractor, exposed the data collection program as one of several revelations about US espionage two years ago.
'Any unauthorized collection'
With the law expiring June 1, the US Justice Department circulated a memo that described the powers that would lapse and the actions NSA would have to take in advance to avoid legal challenges. "After May 22, 2015, the National Security Agency will need to begin taking steps to wind down the bulk telephone metadata program in anticipation of a possible sunset in order to ensure that it does not engage in any unauthorized collection or use of the metadata," the Justice Department announced.
In a 338-88 vote last week, the House of Representatives approved the Freedom Act to end the bulk collection. President Barack Obama has said he would sign the measure into law if it reached his desk.
Republican majority leader Mitch McConnell, who favors renewing the act as is, said the Senate will move before its recess. Among Paul's Senate rivals for the Republican presidential nomination, Marco Rubio and Lindsey Graham favor extending the program.
Ted Cruz supports the version passed by the House. However, Paul argues that the watered-down reforms still allow for mass data hoovering.
Other Republican candidates include former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee and two challengers from the private sphere. On the Democratic side, the former first lady and secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton voted for the USA Patriot Act as a senator in 2001. Her opponent in the race for the Democratic nomination, Senator Bernie Sanders, voted against the act while serving in the House of Representatives at the time.
mkg/bw (Reuters, AFP, AP)