President Obama used his weekly radio address to call on the Senate to pass the USA Freedom Act. Without its passage, the National Security Agency's (NSA) domestic surveillance program will expire June 1 along with the Patriot Act.
The USA Freedom Act, which passed the House, will extend most aspects of the Patriot Act. Currently, the NSA preserves meta-data from all American citizens' phones for five years. The USA Freedom Act preserves the NSA's ability to use the meta-data, but keeps the bulk records with phone companies who must preserve them for 18 months.
"The Act also includes other changes to our surveillance laws — including more transparency — to help build confidence among the American people that your privacy and civil liberties are being protected," said Obama, a proponent of the bill.
The NSA's sweeping program that collects data on all Americans, not just those suspected of terrorism, only came to light two years ago due to revelations by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.
Obama said in his address that these "tools are not controversial," even though there are currently several lawsuits, including several by the American Civil Liberties Union, attempting to end unwarranted bulk data collection completely.
"A small group of senators is standing in the way," Obama said, without calling out Senator Rand Paul, R-Ky., by name. Paul took the Senate floor for 10 hours last week and blocked the passage of the bulk data collection bill.
"Some folks are trying to use this debate to score political points," said Obama, an apparent dig at presidential candidate Paul, who sent out campaign emails to supporters of his filibuster.
The bill has bipartisan support. FBI Director James Comey says the tools in the Act are "essential" and losing them will "severely" impact terrorism investigations.
"Terrorists like al Qaeda and ISIL aren't suddenly going to stop plotting against us at midnight tomorrow," Obama said. "We shouldn't surrender the tools that help keep us safe ... It would be irresponsible. It would be reckless, we shouldn't allow it to happen."