Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wisc.), chairman of the Crime and Terrorism Subcommittee in the House, introduced on Tuesday legislation that seeks 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.
"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."
"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."
The USA FREEDOM Act would end the dragnet collection of Americans' phone records under Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act and ensure that other authorities cannot be used to justify similar dragnet collection. The bill also provides more safeguards for warrantless surveillance under the FISA Amendments Act.
The bill includes other significant privacy and oversight provisions, provides for the creation of a Special Advocate to focus on the protection of privacy rights and civil liberties before the FISA Court, and requires more detailed public reporting about the numbers and types of FISA orders that are issued.
The bill has 16 cosponsors in the Senate including Senators Mike Lee (R-Utah), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Dean Heller (R-Nev.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Mark Begich (D-Alaska), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Mark Udall (D-Colo.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), and Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii). The measure also has more than 70 bipartisan cosponsors in the House and enjoys the diverse support of groups ranging from the National Rifle Association to the American Civil Liberties Union. A list of supporters can be found here.
Leahy and Sensenbrenner's joint op-ed on the USA FREEDOM Act, which Tuesday appeared in Politico, can be viewed here. An outline of the legislation can be found here, and text of legislation can be found online.