Earlier this month, Sen. Patrick Leahy began circulating a piece of legislation called The USA FREEDOM Act. We knew what the legislation would do, but we didn’t know any of the specifics until today.
The Hill reports that Sen. Leahy has finally introduced The USA FREEDOM Act, or the Uniting and Strengthening America by Fulfilling Rights and Ending Eavesdropping, Dragnet-collection, and Online Monitoring Act, into the Senate this afternoon. The legislation, which enjoys 16 co-sponsors in the Senate, clocks in at 118 pages and seeks to reform both the NSA and the FISA court. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, otherwise known as the congressman who wrote the original Patriot Act, has also introduced sister legislation in the House with more than 70 co-sponsors.
“The government surveillance programs conducted under the Foreign Surveillance Intelligence Act are far broader than the American people previously understood. It is time for serious and meaningful reforms so we can restore confidence in our intelligence community,” Leahy said. “Modest transparency and oversight provisions are not enough. We need real reform, which is why I join today with Congressman Sensenbrenner, and bipartisan coalitions in both the Senate and House, to introduce the USA FREEDOM Act.”
So, what exactly does the USA FREEDOM Act do? First and foremost, it ends the bulk collection of Americans’ phone records under Section 215 of the Patriot Act. Currently, the NSA uses an interpretation of Section 215 handed down by the FISA court that allows it to indiscriminately collect Americans’ phone records.
Section 215 is not the only thing that needs reform and Leahy knows it. His legislation would also reform Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act – a law that allows the NSA to collect Americans’ Internet communications without a warrant. Under the USA FREEDOM Act, there will be stricter limits placed on the kind of online communications that can be collected, and it will also require the NSA to “obtain a court order prior to conducting “back door” searches looking for the communications of U.S. persons in databases collected without a warrant under Section 702.”
The legislation would also improve oversight and transparency by reforming two key components of the intelligence community – the FISA court and data request reporting. For the former, the legislation would appoint a public privacy advocate that would argue in favor of pro-privacy in front of the FISA court. As for the latter, the legislation would permit companies to publish the number of data requests they receive from the federal government. It would also require the government to report these numbers itself.
Finally, the USA FREEDOM Act would implement new sunset dates for both the FISA Amendments Act and National Security Letters to bring their expiration in line with the 2015 sunset date for Section 215. The reasoning is that Leahy believes having all three sunset in the same year will force Congress and the executive branch to address every part of the NSA and FISA in one go instead of having years between them.
“Following 9/11, the USA PATRIOT Act passed the judiciary committees with overwhelming bipartisan support. The bill has helped keep Americans safe by ensuring information is shared among those responsible for defending our country and by enhancing the tools the intelligence community needs to identify and track terrorists,” Sensenbrenner said. “But somewhere along the way, the balance between security and privacy was lost. It’s now time for the judiciary committees to again come together in a bipartisan fashion to ensure the law is properly interpreted, past abuses are not repeated and American liberties are protected. Washington must regain Americans’ trust in their government. The USA FREEDOM Act is an essential first step. I would like to thank Congressmen Conyers and Amash, Congresswoman Lofgren, Chairman Issa and others for working with us to draft this important legislation and encourage all my colleagues to support it.”
Now, before you go off and petition your local lawmakers to pass this law, you might want to check out Sen. Patrick Leahy’s statement on his bill. It’s an excellently written piece on how he feels about the NSA and what he hopes the legislation will accomplish.[Image: Patrick Leahy]