Yesterday, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) introduced legislation that would restore Americans’ privacy rights by ending the government’s dragnet collection of phone records and requiring greater oversight, transparency, and accountability with respect to domestic surveillance authorities.
The updated version of the USA FREEDOM Act released yesterday builds on legislation passed in the House in May, as well as the original legislation Leahy introduced with Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) last October. The legislation bans bulk collection under Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act and other surveillance authorities, requires the government to narrow the scope of a search to a clearly defined “specific selection term,” adds needed transparency and reporting requirements, and provides key reforms to the FISA Court. In an editorial on Monday, the New York Times wrote “the bill represents a breakthrough in the struggle against the growth of government surveillance power.”
Leahy noted the legislation provides significant reforms of surveillance authorities, while carefully maintaining the role of law enforcement and intelligence agencies and their responsibility to protect national security.
In his floor statement, Leahy said:
"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 said in a floor 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."
Advocacy groups are urging that Congress pass this bill without weakening it. In its blog, the Center for Democracy & Technology (CDT) said:
"This bill directly addresses many issues identified by CDT immediately after passage of the problematic House version of the bill, and includes many changes that CDT specifically recommended. Notably, the Senate bill prohibits bulk collection and creates new safeguards to limit large-scale surveillance of Americans. It also gives private parties greater ability to report on surveillance orders received and establishes a panel of external experts tasked with protecting privacy and civil liberties at the FISA Court."
Similarly, Privacy groups, such as the ACLU and The Information Technology Industry Council (ITI), as well as tech companies that pulled support from the House version when it became too watered down, praised the bill.
A coalition representing AOL, Apple, Dropbox, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Twitter and Yahoo expressed support for the bill. That group, called Reform Government Surveillance (RGS), previously pulled support for the House version of the USA FREEDOM Act after its gutting. In a statement, this group said:
“[The Senate] bill will help restore trust in the Internet by ending the government’s bulk Internet metadata collection and increasing transparency around US surveillance practices."