Leahy Renews Legislative Push to Limit Surveillance Authorities & Bolster Oversight

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) has introduced legislation that would add reforms and overhaul certain provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act and FISA Amendments Act.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) has introduced legislation that would add important reforms and improve certain provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act and FISA Amendments Act.  The FISA Accountability and Privacy Protection Act of 2013 will bolster existing privacy safeguards and require greater oversight, transparency, and accountability in connection with the government’s expansive domestic surveillance powers.

“The recent public revelations about two classified data collection programs have brought renewed attention to the use of government surveillance powers, which deserve close scrutiny by Congress,” Leahy said.  “The comprehensive legislation that I am introducing today will not only improve the privacy protections and accountability provisions associated with these authorities, but also strengthen oversight and transparency provisions in other parts of the USA PATRIOT Act.”

The bill is cosponsored by Senators Mike Lee (R-Utah), Mark Udall (D-Colo.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), and Jon Tester (D-Mont.).  It closely mirrors legislation that Leahy has championed in the last two Congresses.  The bill unveiled Monday would enhance oversight by expanding the reporting requirements and adding further court review of these capabilities.  It would allow the government to obtain records using Section 215 orders only when it can establish that the information is relevant to an authorized investigation and somehow linked to a foreign terrorist group or foreign power.  It would also keep in place the current June 1, 2015, sunset for roving wiretaps, the “lone wolf” measure, and Section 215 orders in the USA PATRIOT Act, but add a new sunset for National Security Letters.

“Particularly where Congress has authorized broad surveillance programs that implicate Americans’ Fourth Amendment rights, oversight and transparency are essential,” Lee said.  “This legislation will narrow surveillance authorities where appropriate and help provide the necessary accountability to ensure that Americans’ constitutional rights are respected.”

Additionally, the bipartisan measure would make improvements to the FISA Amendments Act (FAA) by shortening the existing 2017 sunset to align with the PATRIOT Act sunsets, while adding a new requirement for a comprehensive audit by the Inspector General for the Intelligence Community on the impact on the privacy of Americans.  The Judiciary Committee last year approved Leahy’s measure to incorporate these improvements and extend the expiring FAA surveillance authorities, although Congress ultimately passed a long-term extension without any new reforms.

About the Author

Ralph Smith has several decades of experience working with federal human resources issues. He has written extensively on a full range of human resources topics in books and newsletters and is a co-founder of two companies and several newsletters on federal human resources. Follow Ralph on Twitter: @RalphSmith47