Senate Committee Approves Continued Bulk Spying on Americans
The Senate Intelligence Committee has adopted a “reform” plan addressing the National Security Agency’s (NSA) controversial domestic surveillance program that would allow it to continue, sparking outcry from civil libertarians and Democratic senators.
Sponsored by committee chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-California) and passed on an 11-4 vote, the legislation allows the NSA to collect and store phone metadata of millions of Americans for renewable 90-day periods.
The bill also authorizes NSA analysts to search through the metadata if there is a “reasonable articulable suspicion” that an American is associated with international terrorism. Additionally, it permits the NSA to maintain surveillance begun on foreigners outside the U.S. if those individuals enter the country “for a transitory period not to exceed 72 hours.”
Senator Mark Udall (D-Colorado), who favors ending the bulk collection of Americans’ phone records, told The Guardian: “The NSA’s invasive surveillance of Americans’ private information does not respect our constitutional values and needs fundamental reform, not incidental changes. Unfortunately, the bill passed by the Senate intelligence committee does not go far enough to address the NSA’s overreaching domestic surveillance programs.”
The Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Trevor Timm wrote that “the bill codifies some of the NSA’s worst practices, would be a huge setback for everyone’s privacy, and it would permanently entrench the NSA’s collection of every phone record held by U.S. telecoms. We urge members of Congress to oppose it.”
Critics of Feinstein’s plan prefer legislation introduced by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont), which would put a stop to the NSA’s domestic phone-records collection.
Feinstein defended her bill by claiming the NSA bulk collection program “is legal and subject to extensive congressional and judicial oversight, and I believe it contributes to our national security,” she said in a statement. “But more can and should be done to increase transparency and build public support for privacy protections in place.”
She said her measure would improve transparency and oversight involving the NSA, including:
- Requiring an annual public report of the total number of queries of NSA’s telephone metadata database and the number of times the program leads to an FBI investigation or probable cause order.
- Mandating that the Foreign Surveillance Intelligence Court impose limits on the number of NSA officials who can authorize or query the call-records database.
- Establishing criminal penalties of up to 10 years in prison for intentional unauthorized access to data acquired under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (pdf).
To Learn More:
Senate Committee Backs Bill That Would Allow NSA Data Collection To Continue (by Spencer Ackerman and Dan Roberts, The Guardian)
Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s New NSA Bill Will Codify and Extend Mass Surveillance of Americans (by Trevor Timm, Electronic Frontier Foundation)
Feinstein Plans Bill To Codify NSA's Phone Spying (by Carolyn Lockhead, San Francisco Chronicle)
Feinstein’s Senate Committee Defends NSA Phone Surveillance, Pushes Bill to Retain It (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)
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