President Makes Last-Minute Push For USA Freedom Act

President Obama said Friday that the Senate needed to pass the USA Freedom Act. "I expect them to take action, and take action swiftly," he said from the White House following a meeting with attorney general Loretta Lynch about the issue.

Without passage, Patriot Act surveillance authorities will sunset at midnight on Sunday (May 31).

The House passed the bill, but it is still several votes short in the Senate, with a Sunday session scheduled to try to come up with a compromise, or alternatively let the authorities sunset.

The USA Freedom Act limits bulk data collection, increases transparency, and makes communications companies, not the government, the repository of the data, which they are only required to store as long as they ordinarily would for business purposes.

"What USA FREEDOM Act does is reform the bulk data collection program that has been of significant concern and that I promised we could reform over a year and a half ago," he said. He also said that there were Democrats and Republicans, law enforcement, and civil liberties proponents and advocates who support the bill (though a number do not). He blamed the hold-up on a "handful of senators."

"This is not an issue in which we have to choose between security and civil liberties," he said, adding that a bipartisan consensus had struck the right balance and shaped legislation that "everybody can support."

He also warned of the alternative. "We only have a few days...and I don't want us to be in a situation which, for a certain period of time, these authorities go away, and suddenly we're dark, and heaven forbid we have a problem where we could have prevented a terrorist attack or apprehended someone engaged in dangerous activity and we didn't do so simply because of inaction in the Senate."

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.