CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia’s two U.S. senators are divided on whether to rein in the federal government’s bulk collection and surveillance of telephone records, a program that recently was ruled illegal by a federal appeals court.
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., supports a bill that would prevent U.S. intelligence agencies from collecting data from nearly every American phone call, while Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., said she would work to reauthorize the program.
The section of the Patriot Act that intelligence agencies have used as justification for collecting the phone data is set to expire at the end of this month. The Patriot Act passed in the wake of the al-Qaida terrorist attack on Sept. 11, 2001.
Last week, the U.S. House passed a bill that would ban mass collection of phone data by intelligence agencies and would instead instruct telecommunications companies themselves to preserve the data. Intelligence agencies could then access the data for specific people, accounts or addresses after obtaining a court order. The bill, called the USA Freedom Act, is supported by President Obama and passed the House with overwhelming bipartisan support, including the votes of West Virginia’s three representatives, all Republicans.
Manchin said he would support the bill and said he agreed with the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which earlier this month ruled that the bulk data collection under the Patriot Act is illegal. The court allowed the program to stay in place while Congress decides its fate ahead of the June 1 deadline.
The surveillance program was first revealed in 2013 by Edward Snowden…