In a rare display of bipartisanship amid the government shutdown, Patriot Act author Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., is poised to introduce a bill to tighten surveillance powers that are granted by his 2001 law to the National Security Agency (NSA) with help from Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.
Sensenbrenner and Leahy are circulating an outline of "The USA Freedom Act" to tighten Section 215 of the Patriot Act and end the NSA's bulk collection of U.S. phone call records, according to a copy of the outline obtained by The Hill.
If the bill were passed the NSA would only be allowed to collect data relevant to "an authorized investigation into international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities" of a foreign power, the outline stated. The bill would protect Americans from surveillance, requiring the NSA to discard online information about Americans and strengthen the prohibition against "reverse targeting" of Americans, which is a loophole to collect communications involving an American by monitoring the communications of a foreigner.
To reform the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), the draft bill calls for the creation of a privacy advocate to argue civil liberties concerns and appeal court decisions.
Transparency is a big part of the draft bill, which would make public all FISC opinions issued after July 2003 that contain a significant construction or interpretation of law. It would also increase the ability of Internet and telecom companies to disclose information about government requests. Companies including Facebook and Yahoo sued the government in September for the right to publicly disclose the amount of user data requests those companies receive from the government.
Leahy is the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, but the bill will face opposition from Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. She has proposed her own bill that adds oversight and transparency measures to NSA's programs, but would still preserve the surveillance.
The House will also be a difficult arena for the Freedom Act, where a proposed amendment to the defense appropriations bill that would have restricted the NSA's collection of phone records and metadata was narrowly defeated in July. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, R-Mich., is also planning legislation to rebuild confidence in the NSA, but it might also leave the surveillance intact while adding transparency and oversight measures.