This is not a left or right issue. It’s an American issue, and it’s a constitutional issue, and it’s a national security issue. – Sen. Mike Lee
SALT LAKE CITY — Sen. Mike Lee continues to urge his U.S. Senate colleagues to pass legislation to end the government's bulk collection of Americans' telephone records, and he expects a vote as soon as Tuesday.
Though he conceded the USA Freedom Act isn't perfect, Lee, R-Utah, said it represents middle ground between the nation's intelligence agencies and civil libertarians.
The bill, which the U.S. House overwhelmingly approved last month, renews key provisions of the Patriot Act that cover surveillance gaps that were exposed in the 9/11 attacks. It also aims to end bulk phone data collection, increase transparency and create additional protections for Fourth Amendment rights. Utah's four members voted for the measure.
"The same legislation, I think, still needs to be passed in the Senate, and I expect that we'll be passing it in the next 48 hours," Lee told KSL Newsradio's "The Doug Wright Show" on Monday.
The Senate let the Patriot Act expired Sunday night, effectively ending — for now — those provisions, including the National Security Agency's bulk data collection program.
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., who is running for president, used procedural tactics to delay a vote on the House bill.
"I share many of the came concerns (Paul) has with the Patriot Act. He and I differ as to the outcome," Lee said.
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said terrorists continue to be a clear and present danger, adding he helped craft the Patriot Act after 9/11 as the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee.
"We need to use a broad array of intelligence tools to thwart and prevent attacks on our nation," he said.
Hatch said while he prefers a clean reauthorization of the Patriot Act, he voted to advance the consideration of the USA Freedom Act as the "only current legislation capable of maintaining many of these critical authorities." But he said he supports Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's amendments to fix some of the "major" defects in the bill.
Lee told MSNBC's "Morning Joe" that his alternative would means the NSA could no longer say, "'Send us all your phone records. We want calling details on every call made in the United States.’ They’d have to connect a phone number they wanted to search to another telephone number that was in some way involved in acts of terrorism."
The senator acknowledged that there are no known abuses of the Patriot Act, but said it's rife with potential for abuse. At the same time, he said, it’s difficult to point to specific terrorist acts that have been thwarted by program.
That makes a perfect scenario for compromise that safeguards people's privacy, said Lee, who addresses domestic spying in his recent book "Our Lost Constitution.
"This is not a left or right issue. It's an American issue, and it's a constitutional issue, and it's a national security issue," he said.
In his book, Lee writes that the Fourth Amendment should protect the privacy of people's personal papers, whether they're stored in desks and filing cabinets or in email and the cloud.
"Whether it is an 18th-century general warrant or a 21st-century collection of metadata, a fishing expedition through the records of innocent people's private records violates citizens' privacy, invites partisan persecution and threatens liberty," he wrote.