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Senate’s Bill Is a ‘Fake Fix’ to Domestic Spying

(CN) - The Senate Intelligence Committee approved a "fake fix" to out-of-control National Security Administration surveillance of Americans, a digital privacy rights group said.

So-called "dragnet" spying on the phone calls of all Americans came to light this past June when NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden leaked a top-secret court order from the shadowy Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

While prosecutors went after Snowden, civil liberties groups filed federal lawsuits in New York and California attempting to rein in the reach of government agencies empowered by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA.

Supporters tout the FISA Improvements Act of 2013, which the Senate Intelligence Committee approved on Oct. 31, as a means of improving Americans' privacy while still utilizing surveillance methods to ensure national security.

Backed by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., the bill would prohibit the bulk review of communications records unless there is a "reasonable articulable suspicion" of association with international terrorism. It also mandates a limit on the number of contacts an analyst can receive in response to a query of bulk records.

But the Electronic Frontier Foundation has said that these new restrictions on data analysis would do nothing to stop the NSA's collection of raw data.

"It won't end bulk data collection by the NSA, and it won't stop unconstitutional surveillance on our communications. It offers fig-leaf transparency and oversight provisions while embracing NSA surveillance," the group said in a statement.

The proposed legislation would require reporting to Congress all violations of the law by intelligence agencies, as well as a review of all collections activities every five years.

It also would allow the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to appoint outside amicus curiae to assist the court in its interpretation of the law.

Feinstein emphasized her position that "the NSA call-records program is legal" while calling for greater transparency and public support.

"The threats we face - from terrorism, proliferation and cyber attack, among others - are real, and they will continue," the senator said in a statement. "Intelligence is necessary to protect our national and economic security, as well as to stop attacks against our friends and allies around the world."

But the EFF calls the bill a "fake fix."

"This bill isn't designed to rein in the NSA spying programs," the digital privacy rights organization said.

Rather it authorizes the NSA's practice of collecting phone and internet records, and shores up the legality of mass surveillance of the government on its own citizens, the EFF added.

In its federal complaint against the NSA's domestic spying program, the EFF represents a diverse group of environmentalists, religious organizations, human-rights workers and other advocacy groups.

The Senate Judiciary Committee, which shares jurisdiction over FISA, is expected to consider the bill in the coming months.

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