Republicans have a choice to make.
In five months, key provisions of the Patriot Act are set to expire, potentially eliminating spying programs that intelligence officials say are critical to keeping the nation safe from terrorists.
The battle over what changes should be made to that law — and whether it should be reauthorized at all — is likely to be an early test of Republican leaders’ ability to keep their party unified while controlling both chambers of Congress.
“I think there is going to be a very inconvenient and strong difference of opinion within the Republican Party about how to proceed here,” said Kevin Bankston, policy director at the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute and a supporter of reforms to the spying law.
“This is why we strongly recommended that we pass [reforms] last year, to avoid a significant interparty split,” he added.
On June 1, key portions of the Patriot Act that update the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) are set to expire. Among them is Section 215, which the National Security Agency (NSA) has used to authorize the collection of bulk records about millions of U.S. citizens’ phone calls.
The program — which collects only “metadata” about people’s calls, such as which numbers were dialed and when, and not actual conversations — was the most controversial part of Edward Snowden’s leaks about the NSA, and has become the prime focus of privacy advocates on Capitol Hill.
After failing to get NSA reform legislation to President Obama’s desk last year, advocates are eyeing the upcoming summer deadline as their best chance to significantly change the practices of the spy agency.
But supporters of the NSA are fighting back, and say the debate over phone data has overshadowed the national security imperatives that led lawmakers to empower the agency in the first place.
They say recent world events have helped their case.
First, the terror attacks in Paris — in which a small team of gunmen killed 17 people over a three-day rampage — served as a reminder of the importance of keeping tabs on possible terrorist suspects
Then last week, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) credited the Patriot Act with helping to prevent a terror attack on the U.S. Capitol.
Read More:GOP faces Patriot Act choice | TheHill.