Senate Bill Seeks to Place Strict Limits on Surveillance Powers

WASHINGTON (CN) – A bipartisan proposal in the U.S. Senate would require the National Security Agency to obtain a search warrant before it engaged in the wholesale collection of emails, phone calls and other communications of American citizens.

Introduced Tuesday by Sens. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and Bill Wyden, D-Ore., the USA Rights Act is an attempt to rein in Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, a controversial loophole that allows U.S. intelligence agencies to conduct warrantless surveillance on Americans.

 

Sens. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., are among the other 11 senators sponsoring the bill.

A companion piece of legislation is proposed in the House, sponsored by Reps. Beto O’Rourke and Ted Poe, of Texas, and  Zoe Lofgren, of California.

Originally adopted in 2008 and renewed in 2012, Section 702 grants intelligence agencies the ability to collect “significant foreign intelligence that is vital to protect the nation against international terrorism and other threats.”

But Rand and Wyden and their bill co-sponsors say it goes way too far, allowing the government to conduct unlimited searches of private communications without checks in place to prevent “reverse targeting” of Americans communicating with foreign targets under scrutiny or those who merely mention a foreign target in passing.

Among other things, the USA Rights Act would improve judicial oversight of the government’s surveillance regime, while providing greater transparency by requiring stricter reporting of government surveillance activities.

These provisions fly in the face of the desires of the Trump administration which has called for the permanent reauthorization of Section 702, a move that would dramatically limit Congressional oversight on the activities the section allows.

Further, the sponsors said, “This bill establishes a basis for “standing,” allowing outside plaintiffs to challenge the constitutionality of this authority.”

“Congress must not continue to allow our constitutional standard of ‘innocent until proven guilty’ to be twisted into ‘If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear,'” Paul said in a statement. “The American people deserve better from their own government than to have their Internet activity swept up in warrantless, unlimited searches that ignore the Fourth Amendment. Our bill institutes major reforms that prove we can still protect our country while respecting our Constitution and upholding fundamental civil liberties.”

Among the organizations supporting the bill is the American Civil Liberties Union.

“Section 702 has been abused by our government for years to spy on individuals without a warrant in violation of the Constitution,” said Neema Singh Guliani,  legislative counsel with the American Civil Liberties Union Washington office, in a written statement, adding that the bill is a “step forward” toward more effectively protecting those rights.

Also endorsing the USA Rights Act is the Electronic Frontiers Foundation, an organization that advocates for civil liberties in the digital world.

In a statement on its website, the foundation called the bill “a beacon that extends new light on the government’s opaque surveillance regime, hopefully guiding future legislation on similar issues.”

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