Leahy unveils ‘historic’ NSA reform bill

The Hill – by Julian Hattem

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) will introduce legislation on Tuesday to put sweeping new limits on U.S. surveillance and peel back the curtain on controversial spying programs.

The aggressive bill seeks to address concerns that tech companies and civil liberties proponents had about the House’s attempt to rein in National Security Agency (NSA) by restricting agents to narrow, targeted searches of records about people’s phone calls as well as making the spying regime more transparent.  

For civil libertarians, it is the best hope for reining in the spy agency this year, though defenders of the spy agency in Congress are likely to push back.

“If enacted, this bill would represent the most significant reform of government surveillance authorities since Congress passed the USA Patriot Act 13 years ago,” Leahy, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, said in a statement.

“This is an historic opportunity, and I am grateful that the bill has the support of the administration, a wide range of privacy and civil liberties groups, and the technology industry,” he added.

The NSA’s collection of telephone “metadata” – information about which numbers people dial, when and how long the calls last, but not the content of people’s conversations – has emerged as the most contested surveillance operation since it was revealed by Edward Snowden last summer.

Like legislation that passed the House in May, the Senate bill would end the NSA’s bulk collection and storage of those phone records. Instead, agents would need a court order to be able to search through the databases held by private phone companies such as AT&T or Verizon.

Critics of the House’s version of the bill said that it had been gutted before it hit the floor and could allow agents to search for a broad array of records, such as anyone in a specific zip code. Tech firms and privacy advocates who originally backed the House bill ended up withdrawing their support before it passed earlier this year.

Leahy’s bill would prevent the possibility of that broad collection by requiring agents use specific terms in their searches.

It also requires the government to disclose the number of people caught up in its searches, declare how many of them were Americans and provides more ways for tech companies to report the number of government requests for information they receive, which firms have said is critical to restoring people’s trust in their products.

Finally, Leahy’s bill would also add a panel of special civil liberties advocates to the secretive court overseeing intelligence operations, which currently only hears arguments from the government.

In announcing the bill, Leahy trumpeted support from tech companies including Apple and Google, which have teamed up with other tech giants in the Reform Government Surveillance coalition, as well as privacy groups like the American Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Democracy and Technology.

Defenders of the NSA’s operations say that the phone records program has been critical to connect the dots between terrorists, and they allege that Snowden’s leaks have made it easier for enemies of the country to stay hidden.

Hawkish lawmakers could pose a problem for Leahy’s bill, especially with dwindling time left on the congressional calendar.

Sen. Saxby Chambliss (Ga.), the top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said on Monday that Leahy’s changes to the House legislation “are going to make it very difficult for that bill to go anywhere.”

“We need a full and complete debate on it, and not just Sen. Leahy’s side of it, so to speak,” he told The Hill.

Read more: http://thehill.com/policy/technology/213629-leahy-unveils-historic-nsa-reform-bill#ixzz38rKL9gRW
Follow us: @thehill on Twitter | TheHill on Facebook

2 thoughts on “Leahy unveils ‘historic’ NSA reform bill

  1. Curb the NSA? It should be disbanded along with all the other police state apparatus inimical to the Constitution and Bill of Rights.

  2. Thanks for shoveling another pile of BS our way, Leahy, but how do you plan to reform the NSA when you don’t even know what the hell they’re doing?

    Shut your pie-hole and go back to your little boyfriend, you worthless pile of trash. We’ve heard more than enough nonsense out of you.

Join the Conversation

Your email address will not be published.