Sen. Tom Cotton, a Republican from Arkansas who served two combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, introduced legislation Tuesday that would delay the termination of the National Security Agency’s bulk metadata collection program until the Obama administration can certify that its proposed new architecture for keeping the data in private-sector hands will not have a negative impact on the government’s ability to detect terrorist plots.
The proposed bill, known as the Liberty Through Strength Act, comes just days after the coordinated terrorist attacks across Paris and just 10 days before the mandatory transition of bulk metadata storage from NSA servers back to servers operated by private telephone companies. The transition was mandated by the USA Freedom Act, which passed in June. But the potential use of electronic communications by the Paris terrorists to plan and coordinate the attacks that killed 129 people has led to new questions about the Obama administration’s willingness to add another layer to the process of getting access to records of suspected terrorists and their supporters.
“The terrorist attacks in Paris last week are a terrible reminder of the threats we face every day. And it made clear that the President’s empty policy of tough talk and little action isn’t working against ISIS,” Cotton said in a statement released Tuesday. “Regrettably, these policy follies also extend to the Intelligence Community, whose hands were tied by the passage of the USA FREEDOM ACT. This legislation, along with President Obama’s unilateral actions to restrict the Intelligence Community’s ability to track terrorist communications, takes us from a constitutional, legal, and proven NSA collection architecture to an untested, hypothetical one that will be less effective. And this transition will occur less than two weeks from today, at a time when our threat level is incredibly high.”
“Now is not the time to sacrifice our national security for political talking points. We should allow the Intelligence Community to do their job and provide them with the tools they need to keep us safe,” Cotton said. “Passing the Liberty Through Strength Act will empower the NSA to uncover threats against the United States and our allies, help keep terrorists out of the United States, and track down those responsible in the wake of the Paris terrorist attacks.”
The changes to the NSA metadata program under the USA Freedom Act are set to become effective Dec. 1. Cotton’s bill, however, would extend the transition timeline in the USA Freedom Act until after Jan. 31, 2017, and upon certification from the president that the new architecture will have no operational impacts. It would also make lone wolf and roving wiretap provisions of the USA Patriot Act permanent.