Few Americans Support Clean Reauthorization of Patriot Act

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Fewer than one in six Americans support reauthorizing the Patriot Act without making changes to the National Security Agency’s surveillance practices.

The 9/11-era law’s surveillance provisions – which enable the NSA to collect the phone records of millions of Americans – expire on June 1. According to a new Morning Consult poll, there’s little public support for renewing the statute unless substantial changes are made.

A plurality of voters, 45 percent, said Congress should renew the surveillance provisions with some modifications, while 26 percent said the section authorizing the NSA’s mass collection of phone records should expire. Only 16 percent supported renewal of the surveillance provisions in their current form.

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Conflicting legislation in the House in the Senate would either end the bulk collection of phone records by the NSA or reauthorize the Patriot Act without modification. Tomorrow, the House is expected to pass H.R. 2048, which would end the bulk collection of phone records by the NSA under Section 215 of the Patriot Act, one of the expiring provisions.

The Obama administration supports the House measure, saying in a statement today that the bill “strikes an appropriate balance between significant reform and preservation of important national security tools.”

Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) introduced a companion bill, S. 1123. The chamber is also considering a bill – S. 1035, sponsored by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) – that would reauthorize the Patriot Act with no changes.

“These issues are neither Republican nor Democratic, they’re neither conservative nor liberal – they’re simply American issues,” Lee said today on the Senate floor.

The competing measures on Capitol Hill have split both parties and created strange bedfellows as liberal Democrats line up with libertarian-leaning Republicans to support surveillance reforms.

In the Senate, presidential candidate Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) joined Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) in threatening to filibuster the clean reauthorization backed by McConnell.

Last week, a federal appeals court posed a challenge to McConnell’s effort by ruling the NSA’s bulk phone-data collection program is not justified by the Patriot Act.

The poll showed single-digit differences between Democratic and Republican voters on whether to renew the expiring provisions.

Twenty-three percent of Republicans and 27 percent of Democrats said the statutes should be allowed to sunset. The proportion of Republicans who wanted Congress to renew the provisions without changes was 21 percent, while 15 percent of Democrats felt the same way.

Party differences narrowed even more when it came to whether the NSA provisions should be modified before reauthorization, with 44 percent of Democrats and 45 percent of Republicans supporting that approach.

However, differences emerged when it came to self-identified ideologies, with liberals 10 percentage points more likely than conservatives to back an expiration of the surveillance provisions: 34 percent to 24 percent.

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Voters were also split by age. Respondents younger than 30 were more likely than the 55-and-up crowd to support an expiration of the provisions.

The poll was conducted from May 8 through May 11 among a national sample of 2,059 registered voters. Results from the full survey have a margin of error of plus or minus 2 percentage points.

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