As House Prepares To Take Up NSA Reform This Week, Leahy Urges Senate To Act

WASHINGTON (Tuesday, May 12, 2015) – This week, the House is poised to take up and pass the bipartisan USA FREEDOM Act of 2015.  Senators Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah), who coauthored the bill with leading House members to end the government’s dragnet collection of phone records under Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act, joined together Tuesday to call on the Senate to take up and pass the historic legislation after the House acts.

“In the name of fighting terrorism, the government convinced a secret court that it needed to collect billions of phone records of innocent Americans – not because those phone records were relevant to any specific counterterrorism investigation, but rather because the NSA wanted to sift through them in the future.  This is an extraordinarily broad reading of the statute, and one that Congress certainly did not intend,” Leahy said, noting that just last week a three-judge panel of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously ruled that the National Security Agency’s (NSA) bulk collection of Americans’ phone records is illegal and goes beyond what is authorized under Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act. 

Leahy added: “We know that for years the NSA collected metadata about billions of emails sent by innocent Americans using the same justification.  Should we allow the government to sweep up all of our credit card records?  All of our banking or medical records?  Our firearms or ammunition purchases?  Or how about everything we have ever posted on Facebook, or everything we have ever searched for on Google?  Who wants to tell their constituents that they support putting all of this information into government databases?  Enough is enough.”

With Leahy as chairman last Congress, the Senate Judiciary Committee held six hearings on the issue, hearing important testimony from the President’s Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies, all five members of the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB), former NSA Director General Keith Alexander, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, and others.

An outline of the USA FREEDOM Act of 2015 can be found here, and text of legislation can be found online.

Across the Country, Calls for Reform

  • “Intelligence and law enforcement must be able to gather and analyze telephone metadata, but that requirement of national security can, and must, be balanced by robust protections of privacy and civil liberties…There is, fortunately, a promising reform proposal readily available: the USA Freedom bill, which enjoys bipartisan support in both chambers as well as broad endorsement from President Obama — and the affected private industries as well.” Washington Post (Editorial, May 11)
  • “Choosing between privacy and security in these dangerous times is difficult. But, despite what supporters of bulk collection insist, lawmakers don't have to choose. A carefully built compromise allows access to phone records, but with genuine privacy safeguards. The nation would be no less secure. And the civil liberties on which the nation was built would be better protected.” USA Today (Editorial, May 11) 
  • “A bill passed by Congress, signed by the president, in furtherance of an important ruling by the courts, would be about all our political system could do to make it clear to the NSA and all the other clandestine agencies out there that the indiscriminate collection of mountains of our personal metadata is not wanted, warranted, constitutional or logical.” Salt Lake Tribune (Editorial, May 9)
  • “The USA Patriot Act was enacted in the days following Sept. 11, when the nation trembled on the verge of panic, with little debate and little opposition in Congress. The Patriot Act has been recognized since on both left and right as unfortunate legislation that granted too much power to the government to snoop into the lives, calls and emails of everyone in the name of national security.” Washington Times (Editorial, May 7)
  • “Under this legislation, the government can continue to search telephone records when there is a reasonable suspicion of a connection to terrorism. But it will no longer be able to warehouse those records, and it will have to satisfy a court that it isn't on a fishing expedition. Those are eminently reasonable restrictions — unless you believe that the war against Islamic State and similar groups means that Americans must sacrifice their right to privacy in perpetuity.” Los Angeles Times (Editorial, May 6)
  • “Mr. McConnell, in fact, is even out of step this time even with his Republican counterpart in the House, Speaker John A. Boehner, who now finds himself in an unlikely alliance that includes President Barack Obama, the tea party and a bipartisan majority in his own chamber that favors modifying the law. Such a realignment of forces is a testament to a changing mood in the country from the post-9/11 focus on doing whatever was necessary to protect national security to one that at the same time recognizes the need to protect Americans' civil liberties as well.” Baltimore Sun (Editorial, May 5)


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