-- Senator Rand Paul said today he plans to force the expiration of a controversial National Security Agency surveillance program on Sunday.
"Tomorrow, I will force the expiration of the NSA illegal spy program," Paul said in a statement Saturday. "I am ready and willing to start the debate on how we fight terrorism without giving up our liberty."
Paul, R-Kentucky, will likely do this by using procedural tactics to delay votes on measures intended to reform the program. The Patriot Act's Section 215, which provides the authorities for the NSA's bulk collection of Americans' phone records, is one of several provisions set to expire at midnight on June 1.
Paul strongly opposes the reauthorization of the program, which was first unveiled by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden in 2013, as well as a current plan that would offer reforms to it.
"I have fought for several years now to end the illegal spying of the NSA on ordinary Americans," the Kentucky senator and presidential candidate said. "The callous use of general warrants and the disregard for the Bill of Rights must end. Forcing us to choose between our rights and our safety is a false choice and we are better than that as a nation and as a people."
The Senate is scheduled to convene at 4 p.m. Sunday for a rare weekend session to determine the future of the program by either voting on the USA Freedom Act, which has passed the House but failed by three votes in the Senate, or a short-term extension of the current program.
The USA Freedom Act would end the government's collection of the phone metadata and instead require the telephone companies to develop the technology to retain the data that could then be queried via an NSA-obtained warrant.
But Paul will likely use Senate rules to prolong votes on either of those measures, likely pushing final passage of either of those bills until later in the week.
The NSA has prepared to wind down the program ahead of a potential expiration and will start the shutdown process at 4 p.m. Sunday, according to senior administration officials. After four hours, the shutdown will be irreversible, meaning Congress will need to act before then to prevent the program from going dark.
President Obama and Attorney General Loretta Lynch said Friday that the expiration of the phone records collection program would pose a threat to national security.
"I don't want us to be in a situation in which, for a certain period of time, those authorities go away and suddenly we're dark and, heaven forbid, we've got a problem where we could have prevented a terrorist attack or apprehended someone who was engaged in dangerous activity, but we didn't do so simply because of inaction in the Senate," Obama said after meeting with Lynch Friday in the Oval Office.
In addition to Section 215, two other provisions of the Patriot Act will expire -- the "Lone Wolf" provision and roving wiretaps power.