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ACLU Strongly Supports Sensenbrenner-Leahy Bill Reforming NSA Surveillance Authorities
WASHINGTON – A bipartisan reform bill to rein in the National Security Agency's bulk collection, analysis, and storage of Americans’ electronic communications was introduced in both the Senate and the House of Representatives on October 29. The American Civil Liberties Union strongly supports the bill, which is sponsored by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), one of the original authors of the Patriot Act.
"The last five months have proven that the NSA cannot be trusted with the surveillance authorities they have been given by a secret court without the knowledge or approval of the American people," said Michelle Richardson, legislative counsel at the ACLU’s Washington Legislative Office. "The only way to stop the NSA's collect-it-all mentality is for Congress to pass legislation that prohibits the intelligence community from engaging in the dragnet surveillance of Americans' communications. The legislation introduced today by Sen. Leahy and Rep. Sensenbrenner is a true reform bill that rejects the false and dangerous notion that privacy and our fundamental freedoms are incompatible with security."
The bill, The USA FREEDOM Act, would enact the following core reforms to NSA surveillance authorities:
It would end the bulk collection of Americans' records shared with third parties and put reasonable limits on Patriot Act powers targeted at people in the U.S. The new restrictions would apply not only to phone records collected under Section 215 of the Patriot Act, but national security letters and pen registers that have also been abused.
It would amend the 2008 FISA Amendments Act to require court orders before the government could use American information collected during foreign intelligence operations.
It would increase transparency by allowing communications providers to disclose the number of surveillance orders they receive, mandate the government publish how many people are subject to surveillance orders, and make public significant FISA Court opinions since July 2003.
It would create a public advocate that could advise the secret surveillance court in certain cases.
The bill pulls language together from the many House and Senate bills introduced over the last several months by members of both parties.
"The bulk collection of Americans' phone records is an extraordinary and intrusive power government should not have," said Richardson. "This legislation rightly shuts the program down and provides additional protections to ensure the government doesn’t engage in the bulk collection of any other records. Proposals described by the Intelligence Committees would only make the current situation worse by entrenching privacy-busting practices. Congress should focus on reforms like Sensenbrenner-Leahy."
The bicameral legislation has attracted prominent, bipartisan support.
In the Senate, 16 bipartisan cosponsors include Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah), Dean Heller (R-Nev.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Mark Begich (D-Alaska), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Mark Udall (D-Colo.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.).
In the House, more than 70 bipartisan cosponsors include Reps. John Conyers (D-Mich.), Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), Hank Johnson (D-Ga.), Ami Bera (D-Calif.), Mike Quigley (D-Ill.), Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), John Mica (R-Fla.), Justin Amash (R-Mich.), Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), and Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.).
The ACLU has also filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the NSA's bulk collection of Americans' call records. Oral argument has been set for Nov. 22. For more on ACLU vs. Clapper: aclu.org/national-security/aclu-v-clapper-challenge-nsa-mass-phone-call-tracking
More information on the ACLU's work rolling back NSA spying can be accessed at: