Bill Would Reform NSA Surveillance Program

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Bipartisan legislation could curtail long-running National Security Agency data collection efforts.

A bipartisan cadre of lawmakers in the House and Senate have introduced legislation that would reform the 9/11-era authorities used by the intelligence community to access Americans’ phone records and other domestic communications.

The Safeguarding Americans’ Private Records Act would narrow Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which provided the National Security Agency and sister intelligence agencies sweeping information-gathering authorities following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.  According to lawmakers, the bill would end the phone surveillance program that would ensnare Americans’ phone records and prohibit the warrantless collection of location data. The bill would reform the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, adding transparency to secretive court processes that decide whether to surveil individuals. 

While previous presidential administrations and Congresses have continually renewed the authorities, privacy advocates have voiced increasing opposition to the authorities, which allow for records and data to be vacuumed up without a warrant. The program was first exposed by former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden.

In a statement, Sen. Ron Wyden, D, Ore., said the bill “preserves authorities the government uses against criminals and terrorists, while putting Americans’ constitutional rights front and center.” A companion bill has been introduced in the House, led by Reps. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., and Warren Davidson, R-Ohio.

In recent years, the NSA ran into technical challenges handling and storing the data it is authorized to collect through its Call Detail Record program. Last April, NSA officials reportedly asked the White House to abandon the program, citing logistical and legal challenges outweighed its potential benefits.