Published time: September 25, 2013 23:14
AFP Photo / Spencer Platt
A bipartisan group of US lawmakers has introduced legislation that, if approved, would attempt to strengthen civil liberties and curb the power of the secret FISA courts that approved widespread foreign and domestic NSA surveillance policies.
The bill, dubbed the Intelligence Oversight and Surveillance
Reform Act, bundles a number of ideas proposed in roughly 12
other bills drafted in the wake of the leaks by NSA
contractor-turned whistleblower Edward Snowden, which first
began in June.
The legislation would prevent the National Security Agency from
bulk-collecting Americans’ phone records under section 215 of the
Patriot Act, easily the most polarizing stipulation in that law.
The bill would also eliminate the NSA’s authority to install
so-called “backdoors” to monitor Americans’ various methods of
However, according to The Guardian, there is little congressional
support for any bill that would prevent the NSA from monitoring
Democratic Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon revealed the Intelligence
Oversight and Surveillance Reform Act in a press conference
Wednesday alongside Senator Rand Paul, a Republican.
“The disclosures over the last 100 days have caused a sea
change in the way the public views the surveillance system,”
Wyden said. “We are introducing legislation that is the most
comprehensive bipartisan intelligence reform proposal since the
disclosures of last June.”
If the bill passes technology companies will no longer be
prohibited from revealing how many surveillance requests the
government issued for users’ data. A privacy watchdog would also
“The overbroad surveillance activities that have come to light
over the last few months have shown how wide the gap between
upholding the constitutional liberties of American citizens and
protecting national security has become,” Wyden went on.
“The effect can be felt not only by the significant erosion of
civil liberties domestically, but in the reduced credibility of
the American government abroad and the significant impact on
American economic interests. These reforms seek to close that gap
and avoid the false choice of protecting security over the
preservation of personal liberty.”
Wyden, Udall and Paul were joined by Senators Mark Udall
(D-Colorado) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut). Both
lawmakers have worked to reform the secretive FISA court that has
approved nearly all of the surveillance requests proposed by the
NSA and other agencies.
US President Obama said last month his administration would
dedicate itself to working with Congress to “pursue
appropriate reforms” to the government’s surveillance
policies. Yet forecasters already expect Obama, with the help of
California Senator Dianne Feinstein, who is the chairman of the
Senate Intelligence committee and close to the White House, to
introduce a weaker bill that would not limit the current scope of
Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy said the White House has not made
the case that seizing the phone records of millions of Americans
constitutes “an effective counter-terrorism tool, especially
in light of the intrusion on Americans’ privacy right.” Leahy
is also known to back work on a bill similar to the Wyden
proposal, and has said he is considering reforms to the FISA
Feinstein and the Senate Intelligence Committee are scheduled to
hold a hearing Thursday in which a number of the proposed reforms
will be discussed. James Clapper, the director of national
intelligence, and General Keith Alexander, the director of the
NSA, are both expected to testify against any changes that would
limit the scope of their abilities.
Alexander said Wednesday that despite the “sensationalized
hype” around the “media leaks,” the indiscriminate
collection of phone records is necessary because it allows the
NSA to “join the dots” in terrorism cases.