Leahy Introduces Legislation to Limit NSA

Legislation has been introduced that aims to restore Americans’ privacy rights by ending the government’s dragnet collection of phone records.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) has introduced legislation that aims to restore Americans’ privacy rights by ending the government’s dragnet collection of phone records and requiring greater oversight, transparency, and accountability with respect to domestic surveillance authorities.

Known as the USA FREEDOM Act, the legislation builds on a bill passed in the House in May, as well as the original legislation Leahy introduced with Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) last October. The legislation bans bulk collection under Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act and other surveillance authorities, requires the government to narrow the scope of a search to a clearly defined “specific selection term,” adds needed transparency and reporting requirements, and provides key reforms to the FISA Court.

“If enacted, this bill would represent the most significant reform of government surveillance authorities since Congress passed the USA PATRIOT Act 13 years ago,” Leahy said in a floor statement. “This is an historic opportunity, and I am grateful that the bill has the support of the administration, a wide range of privacy and civil liberties groups, and the technology industry.”

Highlights of the Act include:

  • Enacts significant reforms to the surveillance authorities that the government has used to justify collecting Americans’ telephone records and Internet metadata in bulk.
  • It bans bulk collection by requiring the government to narrowly limit the scope of its collection, and makes clear that the government may not collect all information relating to a particular service provider or to a broad geographic region, such as a city, zip code or area code.
  • To replace bulk collection, the bill authorizes the use of Section 215 to obtain two hops of “call detail records” on a daily basis, if the government can demonstrate reasonable, articulable suspicion that its search term is associated with a foreign terrorist organization.
  • The bill requires the government to report the number of individuals whose information has been collected under various authorities; the number of those individuals who were likely Americans; and the number of searches run on Americans in certain databases. It contains exceptions for numbers that are not currently possible to generate.

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Ian Smith is one of the co-founders of FedSmith.com. He has over 20 years of combined experience in media and government services, having worked at two government contracting firms and an online news and web development company prior to his current role at FedSmith.