US senators propose legislation to throttle NSA's domestic spying

Filed Under: Featured, Law & order, Privacy

Capitol Hill. Image from ShutterstockSenator Patrick Leahy, along with other US senators, has introduced a bill to limit the National Security Agency (NSA) spying on domestic targets.

They're not asking for it to stop, mind you - just that it be more transparent and more circumspect with regards to privacy.

The bill, titled the FISA Accountability and Privacy Protection Act of 2013, seeks to require the government to show that data collection is relevant to an authorized investigation, and that there's a link to a foreign group or power.

As it is, documents continue to come out that reveal ever more surprising things about the extent of how much the NSA spies on domestic targets.

Last week, The Guardian published top secret documents that revealed that the NSA can argue its way into hanging onto purely domestic communications for a host of reasons, including the simple fact that a given message was encrypted.

The FISA Accountability bill, introduced on Monday by Senator Leahy, adds more meaningful judicial review of surveillance orders.

It also abolishes the one-year waiting period before a recipient can challenge the attendant gag on orders filed under Section 215 of the Patriot Act.

It would also amend certain provisions of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).

The new bill would increase the threshold required for the NSA to obtain domestic metadata and would require court-approved minimization procedures.

It would also move up sunset dates on surveillance authorities to June 2015.

Leahy said in a press release that the bill contains "commonsense, practical improvements" to provide checks on the "broad and powerful surveillance tools" now being used by the government:

"The American people deserve to know how laws like the USA PATRIOT Act and the FISA Amendments Act are being used to conduct electronic surveillance, particularly when it involves the collection of data on innocent Americans.

The American people also deserve to know whether these programs have proven sufficiently effective to justify their extraordinary breadth.

The enhanced layers of transparency, oversight, and accountability included in this legislation will ensure that we are protecting national security without undermining the privacy rights and civil liberties of law-abiding Americans."

The Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) noted that it recommended similar proposals in testimony last year before the House Judiciary Committee.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), for its part, sued the Obama administration earlier in June.

Phone records. Image from ShutterstockThe ACLU lawsuit challenged the constitutionality of the phone tracking program which was revealed when The Guardian posted documents showing that Verizon is handing over customer phone records to the NSA on an ongoing basis.

In my opinion, this new bill is a long overdue correction to surveillance powers that have gone to the administration's head.

Between this and legislators' recent attempts to haul the Electronic Communications Privacy Act into the 21st century - thank you, Texas, and let's hope that Congress follows your early lead - the golden age of surveillance is finally getting some much-needed sun in its dark corners.

Images of Capitol Hill and phone records courtesy of Shutterstock.

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4 Responses to US senators propose legislation to throttle NSA's domestic spying

  1. Gavin · 794 days ago

    This is great news!

    I'm not sure it's going far enough and I still feel that open debate regarding the very constitutionality of such data harvesting programs is required. That is not the same as saying that I think all warrantless surveillance should stop, but that I believe such activities should be amended until they can be openly judged as lying within the framework of the US Constitution. I would love to see that constitutionality debate follow the successful passage of this bill.

    As always, it is not just the laws themselves that are the issue, but the way in which those laws are interpreted and used as well as how oversight of those processes works that makes for a healthy program.

    So thank you Texas and thank you Senators for the "FISA Accountability and Privacy Protection Act of 2013" bill. This is most definitely a move in the right direction.

  2. Freida Gray · 794 days ago

    FISA already had everything that the new bill has.FISA required that there be an authorized investigation & that this investigation had links to a "foreign" group.The NSA still found a way around that & they will most likely find a way around this bill too.

  3. Jack Wilborn · 794 days ago

    I personally have requested legislation along these lines and included protection of ISP services from arbitrarily being turned off. Along with this was requests to make e-mail more of a protected medium as people expect. Most IT people know that e-mail is very insecure, but many believe that it's like a voice phone call and legislators need to understand that. and guaranteed some things for it's citizens.

  4. fizzicist · 793 days ago

    I hate to throw a wet blanket on the celebration here, but anyone who thinks this is going to protect them from the ever-expanding state intrusion into citizens' private lives is living a fantasy. Legislation upon legislation upon legislation is what created this mess in the first place. So now, people want MORE legislation?

    It's eyewash --- another pile of political grandstanding that (assuming it passes) will be appended with another passel of pork, and in the end (like the Patriot Act) will end up creating unintended consequence that demand even more legislative band-aids.

    What we need is to start dismantling the bureaucratic and legislative house of cards, not prop it up with more public palliatives that make the cure worse than the disease.

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About the author

I've been writing about technology, careers, science and health since 1995. I rose to the lofty heights of Executive Editor for eWEEK, popped out with the 2008 crash, joined the freelancer economy, and am still writing for my beloved peeps at places like Sophos's Naked Security, CIO Mag, ComputerWorld, PC Mag, IT Expert Voice, Software Quality Connection, Time, and the US and British editions of HP's Input/Output. I respond to cash and spicy sites, so don't be shy.