Sen. Patrick Leahy has introduced an updated, tougher version of the USA FREEDOM Act that would end the bulk collection of data under Section 215 of FISA and also would require the appointment of a panel of special legal advocates who would represent the interests of individual privacy and civil liberties in FISA court hearings.
Leahy’s bill, introduced Tuesday in the Senate, would mark a major change in the way that intelligence agencies in the United States are able to gather phone records and other data. The change that Leahy’s bill introduces is a requirement for agencies to narrow the scope of their collection to a specific selector term and also prevents them from gathering vast amounts of data from broad geographic areas.
The bill would allow agencies still to collect call detail records every day that are a maximum of two hops from a targeted user. But that collection would require the government to “demonstrate reasonable, articulable suspicion that its search term is associated with a foreign terrorist organization.”
Leahy said that he believes the bill represents a major change to the government surveillance landscape.
“If enacted, this bill would represent the most significant reform of government surveillance authorities since Congress passed the USA PATRIOT Act 13 years ago,” Leahy said in a floor statement. “This is an historic opportunity, and I am grateful that the bill has the support of the administration, a wide range of privacy and civil liberties groups, and the technology industry.”
The bulk collection of call records under Section 215 has been on of the main focal points of criticism from privacy advocates and others in the wake of the revelations from Edward Snowden in the course of the last year. The provision in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act allows for the bulk collection of information from telecom providers. Critics argue that the practice violates U.S. law.
“This is a debate about Americans’ fundamental relationship with their government – about whether our government should have the power to create massive databases of information about its citizens,” Leahy said. “I believe strongly that we must impose stronger limits on government surveillance powers – and I am confident that most Vermonters, and most Americans, agree with me. We need to get this right, and we need to get it done without further delay.”