Nearly two years after whistleblower Edward Snowden was branded a traitor by the federal government for revealing mass surveillance of Americans by the National Security Agency, politicians from both sides of the aisle are introducing legislation to snip NSA's snooping powers.
Bills ending the indiscriminate hoovering up of metadata on Americans' digital communications have the apparent support of both parties. The House is poised to pass the USA Freedom Act to overhaul the soon-to-expire Patriot Act, which granted the NSA sweeping new police powers. An identical bill is gaining momentum in the Senate despite the objections of majority leader Mitch McConnell, reports the New York Times.
Both bills would bar the bulk collection by NSA's of Americans' phone records under Section 215 of the US Patriot Act. Instead, records would be kept by phone companies, and the agency would have to win approval for access from the Foreign Intelligence Service Act court. FISA, largely seen as a rubber-stamp court for any NSA request, would face its own overhaul with the addition of an advisory panel of experts on civil liberties. The measures would allow companies to challenge the so-called National Security Letters, which are types of subpoena issued by the FBI that come with a gag order, notes NPR.
"Surveillance reform is not a partisan issue, it's an American issue," said Wisconsin Republican Representative Jim Sensenbrenner, who introduced the original Patriot Act in 2001 and authored the new House measure. "The bill ends bulk collection, it ends secret law. It increases the transparency of our intelligence community and it does all this without compromising national security.
While altering the Patriot Act, both bills would also extend it with the modification, until 2019.
The move won't completely satisfy the most adamant civil libertarians who want the Patriot Act to simply expire June 1. Nor does it please security and defense hawks who want all NSA powers to remain intact.
But the debate has united a strange combination of bedfellows including House Speaker John Boehner, the White House, the Tea Party and a bipartisan majority in the House, notes the Times.