Bipartisan Bill Aims to Reform NSA Surveillance of Americans


U.S. lawmakers on Thursday introduced a bill that aims to reform the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs in an effort to protect citizens’ rights.

The bill, named Safeguarding Americans’ Private Records Act of 2020, was introduced by a bipartisan, bicameral coalition of lawmakers led by Sen. Ron Wyden. The senator, a vocal critic of the NSA’s surveillance programs, last year introduced a bill that sought to put an end to the mass collection of Americans’ phone records.

The Safeguarding Americans’ Private Records Act of 2020 targets the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) and Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act. The controversial Section 215 has allowed the NSA to collect billions of phone records and other types of data.

Section 215 was set to expire in December 2019, but it was silently extended to March 15, 2020.

The new bill seeks to permanently end what lawmakers describe as the “flawed phone surveillance program,” and prohibits the warrantless collection of location, browsing history, and internet search history data.

It also aims to close legal loopholes that have been used by the U.S. government to collect communications records without a court order, and ensures more oversight and transparency by giving independent attorneys access to all documents, records and proceedings of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

“Congress must do its job to uphold the Constitution by reforming Section 215 to ensure it isn’t misused to spy on Americans,” said Rep. Zoe Lofgren, one of the sponsors of the bill. “In public hearings, the Intelligence Community made it clear that it does not believe Fourth Amendment privacy protections for personal or private information that exist for criminal investigations necessarily apply to national security investigations. That position is not only contrary to the Constitution, but also defies Congressional intent. That’s why our Safeguarding Americans’ Private Records Act prevents the misuse of Section 215 by clarifying that simply calling an investigation an ‘intelligence investigation’ cannot be used to circumvent Americans’ Fourth Amendment protections.”

The bill is endorsed by the Free Press, Demand Progress and FreedomWorks groups.

“In 2018, five years after the public learned about the NSA’s bulk telephone metadata dragnet, the government still collected over 434 million phone records under a single program that had only 11 targets. While the call detail records program has already collapsed under its own weight, the statutory authority for it has not, and the lesson is clear: Congress must do more to rein in the government’s out-of-control surveillance,” said Sean Vitka, counsel for Demand Progress.

Related: New Cybersecurity Bills Promote CISOs and Privacy

Related: Marco Rubio Proposes New Federal Data Privacy Bill

Related: With No Unifying U.S. Federal Privacy Law, States Are Implementing Their Own

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Eduard Kovacs (@EduardKovacs) is a contributing editor at SecurityWeek. He worked as a high school IT teacher for two years before starting a career in journalism as Softpedia’s security news reporter. Eduard holds a bachelor’s degree in industrial informatics and a master’s degree in computer techniques applied in electrical engineering.

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