Cotton Introduces Bill Postponing Termination of NSA Phone Records Collection Program

Senator Tom Cotton, Republican of Arkansas, introduced a bill Tuesday that would delay the implementation of the USA Freedom Act, legislation passed in June that ends the NSA’s practice of storing U.S. phone records (the date, time, duration and numbers dialed–but not the content or identity of the caller–of all calls) in a database that may be searched during national security investigations.

The USA Freedom Act takes effect on December 1, but Cotton’s Liberty Through Strength Act would “transition timeline in the USA FREEDOM Act until after January 31, 2017, and upon certification from the President that the new architecture will have no operational impacts,” according to an aide to the senator.

Under the USA Freedom Act, phone records must remain with the phone companies. During debate over the Freedom Act, supporters argued it would still allow the NSA to conduct necessary investigations, but critics raised concerns that the legislation would make it much more difficult–perhaps impossible in some cases in the future–for counterterrorism analysts to connect the dots of terrorist networks.

Cotton said in a statement Tuesday:

“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. 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.

“If we take anything from the Paris attacks, it should be that vigilance and safety go hand-in-hand. 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. 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.”

Cotton’s bill would also make “lone wolf” and roving wiretap provisions in the Patriot Act permanent. An aide to Cotton said that text of the Liberty Through Strength Act would be available later on Tuesday.

Correction: An earlier version of this article reported that an F.C.C. regulation requires companies to retain records for 18 months. That regulation only applies to landlines, not cell phones. The USA Freedom Act does not require phone companies to keep records for any particular amount of time.

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