Alaska Senators Vote to Reform Patriot Act

The U.S. Senate today  voted to curtail the National Security Administration’s collection of bulk phone data. Both Alaska senators voted for the reforms, called the USA Freedom Act.  Sen. Lisa Murkowski was an early sponsor, and last session was one of the few Republicans who voted to advance the bill.

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Sen. Dan Sullivan says he became convinced the bill was a good revision to the controversial parts of the 2001 Patriot Act.

“I think that this reform dramatically, dramatically enhances civil liberties, and the protection of privacy, which is why I voted for it,” he said.

Late last month, Sullivan voted for a short-term extension of the Patriot Act, which failed. He says he didn’t want the less controversial programs to go dark during the debate. Sullivan says his support for the reform bill came after he pored over the most controversial section of the Patriot Act, and studied a recent court opinion declaring that the NSA overstepped its bounds.

“I think that’s what people in Alaska sent me to Washington for: Dig into the issues, study the issues,” he said. “I may have been one of the only senators that have actually sat down with that 100-page opinion and powered through the entire thing.”

Sullivan says surveillance and data-collection programs require a balance, and he thinks more reforms may be needed in the future.

“It’s the combination of wanting to make sure that we maintain our civil liberties but that we also keep up with the evolving threat, and we don’t know what the evolving threat is going to be three months from now, or six months from now.”

The bill, after it is signed into law by the president, will give the NSA six months to stop routinely collecting data about the phone calls Americans make and receive. Instead, the phone companies will keep the information about the calls — to, from and the duration. The government would need a warrant to get targeted records.

The bill passed with 67 votes. Among the 32 “no” votes were presidential candidates Rand Paul and Bernie Sanders, who felt the reform bill didn’t go far enough to protect civil liberties. Also voting “no” were defense hawks like Republican senators John McCain and Mitch McConnell, who support the NSA surveillance programs. The bill already passed the House, where it had the vote of Alaska Congressman Don Young.