4 Proposals to Reform NSA Human Rights Violations: Feinstein=Worst; Leahy-Sensenbrenner=Best

Monday, April 28, 2014
Patrick Leahy and Jim Sensenbrenner (photo: Win McNamee, Getty Images North America)

Several proposals have been put forward that would address the National Security Agency (NSA) spying abuses of privacy and human rights as documented in the Edward Snowden revelations. Four legislative pathways to curbing privacy abuses stand out, yet none comply fully with the 13 International Principles on the Application of Human Rights to Communications Surveillance. However, according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, one of the proposals is a worthy starting point, while another of the bills would make the situation worse than it already is.


The best of the bills is the USA Freedom Act, proposed by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) and Representative Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wisconsin). Among other things, the bill would prevent bulk collection of data, increase supervision of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance (FISA) Court, increase transparency of intelligence activities and provide additional limits to the use of illegally gathered information.


The worst of the proposals from a human rights standpoint is one put forward by Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-California), the FISA Improvements Act. Her plan would codify the use of current bulk collection programs, would allow intelligence gatherers to query information without prior approval by the FISA Court and would permit the use of intelligence by law enforcement agencies.


Another proposal is nearly as bad as Feinstein’s. The FISA Transparency and Modernization Act would allow data collection that’s considered useful “foreign intelligence information,” which could be just about anything. It also creates a new authority to collect data and doesn’t require judges to approve the person on whom the spying is done.


Somewhere in the middle fall the multiple proposals by President Barack Obama and his administration. They put some limits on bulk data collection, would limit the number of “hops,” or spying on persons connected to those already under surveillance to two, but fail to offer protection for whistleblowers.


The USA Freedom Act has drawn bipartisan support and from groups ranging from the American Civil Liberties Union to the right-wing lobbying group Freedomworks. However, Congress has yet to act on the bill.


-Steve Straehley


To Learn More:

Comparing NSA Reforms to International Law: A New Graphic by AccessNow (by April Glaser, Electronic Frontier Foundation)

A Floor, Not a Ceiling: Supporting the USA FREEDOM Act as a Step Towards Less Surveillance (by Kurt Opsahl and Rainey Reitman, Electronic Frontier Foundation)


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