Senate Intelligence Panel Approves NSA Bill That Improves Transparency And Not Much Else

    November 1, 2013

Ever since the Snowden leaks revealed that the NSA was collecting Americans’ phone records en masse, Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein has been the agency’s number one cheerleader. She has consistently argued that the collection of phone records was legal and even proposed a bill that would make that collection legal under law instead of just a court decision. Now she’s one step closer to realizing her dream of an NSA that’s fully protected by the law.

The Hill reports that the Senate Intelligence Committee has passed Feinstein’s bill – the FISA Improvements Act – in a 11-4 vote. The bill would improve transparency regarding the NSA and the FISA court, but not much else. It would also prohibit the NSA from using its vast collection of phone numbers for anything other than terrorism, but it doesn’t change the fact that the agency would still have access to every Americans’ phone records. In short, Feinstein’s bill covers the NSA’s ass, but doesn’t wipe it.

In its defense, Feinstein said that she and her committee did everything they could to make the NSA more trustworthy:

“We’ve tried very hard to put together a bipartisan bill that improves transparency, improves privacy, has more public reporting, has more checks and we’ve done it to the best we can. And we’ve got a good solid two-thirds vote of the committee.”

As you would expect, nobody is really buying it. One of the four who voted agains it – Sen. Mark Udall – said that the Committee’s bill “does not go far enough to address the NSA’s overreaching domestic surveillance programs.” He went on further to say that the agency “needs fundamental reform – not incidental changes.”

Outside of the Committee, there’s already a movement to pass a more robust bill in the Senate that would not only knock the NSA down a peg, but it would also reform the FISA court in some important ways. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy introduced the USA FREEDOM Act earlier this week to end the NSA’s bulk collection of Americans’ phone records as well as put strict limits on the agency’s collection of Internet records under Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act.

Besides Leahy and his 16 co-sponsors in the Senate, Sen. Ron Wyden has also come forward saying that he’ll do everything in his power to stop what he calls “skin deep” reforms. In other words, he wants to make sure that bills like Feinstein’s are never passed. Interestingly enough, however, Wyden was not one of the co-sponsors on Leahy’s bill. It’s hard to say why he hasn’t thrown his name in to support the USA FREEDOM Act, but it’s likely that he’ll speak up about it soon.

In the end, what’s done is done. Feinstein managed to get her bill approved by the Committee she oversees. That was the easy part though. The hard part is just beginning as she now has to contend with a full Congress that doesn’t very much appreciate what the NSA has been doing.

[Image: Dianne Feinstein/Facebook]