Congress responds to grassroots pressure to stop NSA spying



Since this spring, the National Security Agency (NSA) has been the center of controversy due to ongoing revelations of its numerous illegal surveillance programs targeting ordinary Americans, as well as international heads of state. In the wake of the largest rally to date challenging NSA spying--organized by BORDC and the Stop Watching Us coalition--members of Congress introduced a bipartisan measure to dramatically curtail NSA abuses.

Thousands marched from Columbus Circle to the Capitol Reflecting Pool on Saturday, October 26. The march and protest included thousands of live participants, and over 13,000 tuned in to the live stream of the event. The protest featured a range of speakers including Gov. Gary Johnson, Naomi Wolf, Dennis Kucinich, NSA whistleblower Thomas Drake, and BORDC’s Shahid Buttar. For highlights from the rally, watch the video and share it with others who share your privacy concerns.

Since the Snowden leaks first emerged, over two dozen bills have been introduced in Congress that would increase transparency or restrict NSA powers, but only a few would impose meaningful restraints on dragnet spying. Two particular bills, if passed, would begin reinstituting limits on executive power and restore privacy regulations to their pre-9/11 condition.

The first is the USA Freedom Act, introduced on October 29—mere days after the Stop Watching Us rally on Capitol Hill—by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI). The USA Freedom Act would end the bulk collection of Americans' records shared with third parties and limit the powers of the PATRIOT Act which target people in the US. It would also amend the 2008 FISA Amendments Act to require court orders before the government could use the public’s information collected during foreign intelligence operations.

The bill has 17 bipartisan co-sponsors in the Senate and 70 bipartisan co-sponsors in the House. This is likely the most popular bill seeking to dismantle the surveillance state since the narrowly defeated Libert-E Act, introduced in June by Congressmen Justin Amash (R-MI) and John Conyers (D-MI).

The second is the “Surveillance State Repeal Act” (HR 2818) introduced by Congressman Rush Holt (D-NJ), which would repeal the PATRIOT Act and FISA Amendments Act of 2008 in their entirety. In August, BORDC’s Shahid Buttar noted the potency of this bill, “ Among the reform proposals that have been introduced, it may be the only one that reaches the sphere of what former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld described as the ‘unknown unknowns’ that continue to impede efforts to restore the rule of law, transparency, and accountability to the national security state.” In September, the New York Times endorsed the bill, urging Congress to give its full support.

Holt’s bill would also grant enforceable protections to whistleblowers by making any retaliation by government officials a firing offense. On October 31, BORDC along with a host of other civil liberties organizations have signed onto a formal letter of support endorsing the SSRA and submitted it to members of the Committee on the Judiciary.

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