11.17.17

Senator Lee And Senator Leahy Introduce The USA Liberty Act In The Senate

. . . Key Privacy Improvements For FISA

Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Senator Patrick Leahy have jointly introduced the Uniting and Strengthening American Liberty Act (USA Liberty Act) of 2017 in the United States Senate.  Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Amendments Act will expire on December 31, 2017.  This legislation would reauthorize Section 702 while making key privacy improvements. 

Section 702 allows the government to collect sweeping amounts of Internet and other communications, including content and metadata, by targeting communications of foreigners abroad. But in doing so, the government also acquires a vast amount of Americans’ communications and is able to search through such collection without a warrant or even a court order.  The Lee-Leahy legislation would apply stricter limits on the government’s ability to search Section 702 collection for communications of Americans and persons inside the United States, to ensure this surveillance is consistent with the Fourth Amendment.

The bill is modeled after legislation of the same name introduced in the House of Representatives by House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) and Ranking Member John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.).  Last Congress, Senators Lee and Leahy partnered with the same House Judiciary leaders to pass the historic USA FREEDOM Act, which ended NSA bulk metadata collection and contained significant reforms to other surveillance authorities.

Both the House bill, which earlier this month was reported out of the House Judiciary Committee in a strong bipartisan vote, and this Senate companion bill contain long-overdue reforms to this powerful surveillance authority.  They codify an end to “about” collection, enhance accountability, and increase protections for queries of Section 702 metadata, among other important reforms.  The Senate legislation also contains a provision based on an amendment that Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) introduced in the Senate Intelligence Committee that closes the so-called “backdoor” loophole by extending warrant protections to Americans and persons inside the United States for queries of Section 702 contents in both national security and ordinary criminal investigations. 

Senator Lee said:  “Americans have never been more concerned about the security and privacy of their online communications than they are today.  This bill implements some much needed reforms to our surveillance laws that will better protect law-abiding Americans' privacy in a manner consistent with the 4th Amendment."

Senator Leahy said:  “I am proud to again join with Senator Lee to ensure that appropriate and commonsense limits are applied to the government’s vast surveillance powers.  This legislation maintains a critical balance between protecting national security and ensuring the privacy rights and civil liberties of law-abiding Americans, and also provides additional oversight and transparency.  It is my hope that this bipartisan legislation will result in real and meaningful reform to this powerful surveillance tool.”

Leading civil liberties and national security advocates have praised the legislation:

Elizabeth Goitein, co-director of the Brennan Center’s Liberty and National Security Program, said:  “This bill fixes the most serious problem with Section 702 surveillance today: the government’s ability to read Americans’ e-mails and listen to their telephone calls without a warrant,” and called the legislation “a very promising development in the reform debate.”

The legislation is also supported by the civil liberties and civil rights community, such as the American Civil Liberties Union, the Center for Democracy and Technology, the Constitution Project, New America’s Open Technology Institute, and the Project on Government Oversight.

The full text of the legislation can be found here

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