Lawmakers have less than 100 days left to decide whether they want to reform the National Security Agency’s controversial bulk collection of U.S. call data—or risk losing the program entirely. Core provisions of the post-9/11 Patriot Act are due to sunset on June 1, including Section 215, which grants intelligence agencies the legal authority they need to carry out mass surveillance of domestic metadata—the numbers and timestamps of phone calls but not their actual content.
Government officials have said they have no backup plan for replacing the intelligence void if Congress fails to reauthorize the law in some fashion. And earlier this week, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper suggested lawmakers should bear the brunt of blame if the program lapses and the homeland is struck by terrorism.
Yet despite the agitation of the administration, which endorsed reform legislation that narrowly died in the Senate last year, lawmakers have publicly done nothing to move forward on limiting the NSA’s domestic phone dragnet, which was first exposed by Edward Snowden nearly two years ago. Closed-door negotiations are ongoing, but so far supporters of the USA Freedom Act have not found the Goldilocks language needed to appease both the privacy crowd and the security hawks.