The USA FREEDOM Act is Real Spying Reform

Over the last several months, members of Congress have introduced at least two dozen spying reform and transparency bills. Today, a new proposal called the USA FREEDOM Act from Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) was introduced to significantly limit the collection and use of Americans' information under our nation's spying laws. The ACLU strongly supports the legislation.

The bill is notable for its sponsors alone.

Rep. Sensenbrenner was the lead author of the Patriot Act and now is the chair of the House's Subcommittee on Terrorism and Crime. A conservative member of Congress, he has repeatedly supported surveillance laws in the past, but now he's leading the charge for reform. According to Rep. Sensenbrenner, two consecutive White Houses have wrongly used his Patriot Act to collect the phone records of innocent Americans, and he wants it to stop. "This misinterpretation of the law threatens our First, Second and Fourth Amendment rights," Rep. Sensenbrenner recently said. "Congress never intended this. I will rein in the abuse of both the Patriot Act and the U.S. Constitution with the support of the American public."

Sen. Leahy is the chairman of the powerful Senate Judiciary Committee, which also has jurisdiction over the Patriot Act and FISA. He also believes the government's indiscriminate collection of Americans' records must end, because the "government has not made its case that this is an effective counterterrorism tool, especially in light of the intrusion on Americans' privacy rights."

The partnership between these two very senior members of the House and Senate, on both the left and the right, gives this bill legitimacy and a real chance at passing. But the bill has more than just names attached to it – it has substance.

It would amend Section 215 of the Patriot Act – which is used to collect the phone records of almost every American every day – so that it can no longer be used in such a sweeping fashion. The secret FISA court would still be able to issue subpoenas, but they would be limited to collecting things that directly pertain to a terrorist, his associates, or his activities. The bill would also require this standard for national security letters and pen registers, two other Patriot Act tools used to access Americans' records. The point here is to ensure that bulk collection doesn't just jump to another secret authority.

The bill would also make changes to the FISA Amendments Act (FAA), the sweeping 2008 law that codified the warrantless wiretapping program. It would insert a very important restriction that would prevent the government from searching through FAA-collected data for U.S. person data in the absence of an emergency or a court order. Finally, the bill includes the creation of a special advocate before the FISA court and new transparency requirements.

Although the USA FREEDOM Act does not fix every problem with the government's surveillance authorities and programs, it is an important first step and it deserves broad support. It incorporates the language and principles of past reform leaders like Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Reps. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) and John Conyers (D-Mich.), and it is far superior to the proposal recently described by Senate Intelligence Chairman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), which we expect to see shortly.

All members of the House and Senate should co-sponsor the USA FREEDOM Act and fight hard for its passage.

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Anonymous

How much longer is America going to accept Obama's lies that he simply didn't know about the scope of NSA spying on our allies? And why is he ok with spying on American and foreign citizens to the tune of 60 million calls per month in Spain, and 70 million calls per month in France? Obama is a continuation of Bush, and if you defend Obama, you are necessarily defending Bush, too.

Anonymous

Great news! Leahy is from Vermont.

Anonymous

Just a quick correction, Patrick Leahy is a Senator from VT, not CT. Otherwise I love the post!

Anonymous

"Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Ct.)" should read from Vermont!

Rekha Arulanantham

Thank you for letting us know about the typo. The blog post has been updated.

Anonymous

Although this is a step in the right direction (a bill to limit government mass survellience), it's more of a band-aid on a gaping flesh wound.

The Patriot Act is a short-term stop-gap bill that shouldn't have been renewed a long time ago because of how it allows and justifies removing constitutional rights based entirely on vague terminology.

Am I the only one that feels like this "War on Terror" is just the "Red Scare" all over again? I mean, if the whole point of terrorism is to get you to live in fear, and in light of how we've traded our freedoms for security, isn't terrorism winning?

I mean, this is something our country's founders warned us about:
"Those willing to give up liberty for security deserve neither, and will lose both" - Ben Franklin

Anonymous

Many organizations, including thankfully the ACLU, are doing what they can to build public support for passage of the USA FREEDOM Act. One thing you can do, is support a petition to Congress in support of the Act sponsored by the non-profit, non-partisan Our America Initiative, here: https://ouramericainitiative.com/nsa-petition.html

Bad Wolf Corp.

If you want freedom, true freedom, then ignore the laws like they do. If caught, investigate yourself and find no evidence of wrong-doing or cite national security concerns and it will all go away.

Mary Naylor

It looks like a real reform bill to me. Here's hoping it passes!

Anonymous

This bill is no real reform. Only full repeal of unPATRIOT ACT and the FISA act will do. In fact, if the ACLU were to really stand for it principles, it would introduce the Constitution/Bill of Right Restoration Act repealing the myriad of unconstitutional acts. Too many to list here.

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