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‘Uncontroversial’ authorities at risk if Patriot Act provisions expire, says White House

Three U.S. intelligence tools are scheduled to expire Sunday, including the NSA's controversial bulk collection of Americans' phone metadata records. President Obama has urged lawmakers to renew the Patriot Act programs, but so far the Senate has failed to compromise on their extension. Judy Woodruff talks to Lisa Monaco, assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism.

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    This could prove to be a pivotal week for the future of both surveillance and privacy in the United States. Three key provisions of the Patriot Act are set to expire, and so far there is no compromise in the U.S. Senate over whether or how to extend them. That has the White House raising alarm bells.

    President Obama on Tuesday pressed the Senate to renew Patriot Act surveillance programs that are set to expire late Sunday.

  • PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA:

    It’s necessary to keep the American people safe and secure.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Three different intelligence tools are scheduled to expire, roving wiretaps that allow monitoring of terror suspects’ calls even when they switch phones, the so-called lone wolf provision that permits surveillance of individuals not affiliated with terrorist organizations, and, finally, the National Security Agency’s controversial bulk collection of Americans’ telephone metadata records. It’s authorized under Section 215 of the Patriot Act.

    The Senate failed to pass a temporary extension Saturday. Kentucky Republican Rand Paul was among those objecting to the metadata collection.

  • SEN. RAND PAUL, R-Ky.:

    This is a debate about whether or not a warrant with a single name of a single company can be used to collect all the records, all the phone records of all of the people in our country with a single warrant.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Senators will meet again on the issue in a rare Sunday session, hours before the act expires.

    And we get the White House perspective now from Lisa Monaco, assistant to the president for homeland security. I spoke to her just a short time ago.

    Lisa Monaco, thank you for joining us.

    Why should these surveillance programs be continued?

  • LISA MONACO, Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism:

    Good to be with you, Judy. Thanks for having me.

    Judy, what’s at stake here is the lapse of three important national security authorities that will lapse on Sunday, expire on Sunday night, if the Senate doesn’t act, and what’s at issue here is, frankly, a number of uncontroversial authorities that have been used to important effect by our national security investigators for years.

    These are authorities that have been reauthorized several times over the last several years, and these are tools that are used as basic building blocks for national security investigations to catch terrorists, to identify territories, to identify terrorists’ plots. And they are used to great effect by our investigators and our FBI agents and our intelligence community.

    And what you have heard from the FBI director and others is that the loss of these tools will impact their work tremendously.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    So, has the president agreed to scale back the mass collection of Americans’ phone data in order that there be some restrictions on when that collection is done?

  • LISA MONACO:

    Well, what’s interesting about this, Judy, is that you’re referring to some very legitimate questions that have been raised over the last year or so about the NSA’s program to collect telephone metadata.

    That’s information about telephone calls and telephone call numbers, but not the content. Nevertheless, legitimate questions have been raised about the government holding on to that data. And what the president did a year-and-a-half ago is ask his national security team come up with reforms, reforms that would ensure that the operational capabilities and benefits that we get from these programs continue to be used for the safety and security of the American people, but that we address the very real concerns that people have about their privacy when government holds this data.

    And so what the USA Freedom act does, which has garnered 338 Democrat and Republican votes in the House and is before the Senate, what that bill does, it implements the president’s requested reforms, where that data would be held by the providers, by the telephone companies, and be able to be accessed by the government only pursuant to a court order.

    So the bill that the Senate should act on and can act on, on Sunday in order to implement these reforms is before the Senate and it would also continue uncontroversial authorities that the FBI and others needs to do their work.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Well, just quickly, on the continuing to collect phone metadata under court order, there are opponents who say even that is still too lenient, that a court is still going to be inclined to say yes under almost every circumstance.

  • LISA MONACO:

    Well, what we have seen, Judy, is that this program that has been used by the NSA and by our intelligence community in the past has proved to be valuable. You have heard that from our national security professionals.

    But, nevertheless, legitimate questions were raised. We have addressed them the reforms that have garnered huge bipartisan support. And now there’s no reason not to act on that bill. And, otherwise, to not do so would be to court unnecessary risk.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Now, the other two provisions you’re referring to, one is the so-called roving wiretaps provision. Another one is the so-called lone wolf provision that would allow you to track people who are not otherwise identified as terrorists.

  • LISA MONACO:

    Correct.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    And I understand you to be saying that there’s a loss. But for the audience who doesn’t understand what these provisions do, what is the loss if this expires, if these provisions expire?

  • LISA MONACO:

    Let me explain that.

    With respect to the roving wiretap provision, this is an authority that has been used to great effect on the — in criminal investigations. Think about basic criminal investigations when a suspect uses multiple and different cell phones. In this day and age, that’s a tool that investigators want to have in their toolkit.

    And what this authority does, it allows the FBI to go to a court and say, the subject that we’re interested in uses multiple phones, maybe deliberately changes up his phones, and rather than have to go repeatedly back to a judge to try and stay ahead of that, this authority would allow them to stay up on that particular individual.

    This is a tool that’s been used in drug investigations and criminal investigations for decades, and it’s one that is used in the national security investigations to great effect, and we want to continue to have that tool for our investigators.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    So, just very quickly, what’s the loss if any of this expires, even for a matter of a few days?

  • LISA MONACO:

    The loss, Judy, is taking unnecessary risk.

    We are in a high-threat environment. We face threats every day from those who are trying to do us harm, whether it’s al-Qaida, al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, and ISIL, as we have seen in the most recent period.

    The loss here is having an unnecessary gap in our collection and not being able to use tools that have been proven and have been said by our intelligence professionals and law enforcement professionals that they are useful and necessary to keep the country safe.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Lisa Monaco, who is assistant to the president, we thank you very much.

  • LISA MONACO:

    Thank you.

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