Widespread complaints that the National Security Agency (NSA) overstepped its authority (and surveillance-friendly legislation) has prompted 85 lawmakers from both sides of the aisle to back a bill designed to reign in out-of-control intelligence services.
Sixteen Senators and more than 70 members of the U.S. House of Representatives have co-sponsored the USA Freedom Act, a bill that would require that the NSA get permission from oversight agencies before eavesdropping on Internet activity or cell phones of U.S. residents or government officials.
The bill would require that the NSA get a search warrant for each individual U.S. resident on which it wants to eavesdrop – a measure designed to counter the agency’s practice of collecting cell-phone- and Internet usage metadata in wholesale lots and storing it in datacenters on the chance it will be useful later.
Federal surveillance programs authorized by the FISA Amendments Act and other legislation is “far broader than the American people previously understood,” according to a statement from Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Rep, Jim Sensenbrenner (R.-Wis.). Leahy chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee; Sensenbrenner was principle author of the Patriot Act of 2001.
The Patriot Act helped the U.S. respond to the threat of terrorism following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Sensenbrenner said. “But somewhere along the way, the balance between security and privacy was lost,” he said in a separate published statement. “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.”
The bill would “close NSA’s back door access to Americans’ communications by requiring a court order to search for communications of Americans in data collected without individualized warrants,” according to the statement from Leahy’s office.
The bill would create an office of a special advocate who would argue in front of the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that reviews and approves intelligence requests.
The bill would also reverse legislation making it legal for law-enforcement and intelligence agencies to demand customer information from the Internet and other companies, but forbid them from disclosing that they have been tapped for that information.
The bill is one of more than 20 proposed by lawmakers offended by the uncontrolled, large-scale eavesdropping by the NSA, which allegedly included listening in on the conversations of 35 world leaders, including the personal phone of German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Groups supporting bills restricting the NSA include the ACLU, NRA, Center for Democracy and Technology and tech vendors including Mozilla, according to the online magazine Slate.
Image:Shutterstock.com/ Rena Schild