Senators: No 'watered down' NSA reform

 

Three senators are doubling down on their call for a sweeping end to the National Security Agency’s “dragnet surveillance.”

Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Mark Udall (D-Colo.) pledged on Tuesday to fight against “limited” and “watered down” legislation to reform the spy agency, which they said includes the bill that passed the House last month.

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“This is clearly not the meaningful reform that Americans have demanded, so we will vigorously oppose this bill in its current form and continue to push for real changes to the law,” they wrote in an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times.

“This firm commitment to both liberty and security is what Americans — including the dedicated men and women who work at our nation's intelligence agencies — deserve," they added. "We will not settle for less.”

The three senators, who have been among the most vocal critics of the NSA in the upper chamber, said that any reform bill must end a “loophole” allowing the government to snoop on some Americans’ emails without a warrant, add a special advocate to the federal court overseeing the intelligence community and clearly prevent bulk collection of Americans’ phone records.

Those measures were included in the original version of the USA Freedom Act, which cleared in the House in a 303-121 vote last month, but were removed or edited in negotiations before the bill hit the floor.

The special court advocate, for instance, was downgraded to a friend-of-the-court panel.

Some critics have also warned that the bill’s new restrictions on bulk searches of phone records could allow for agents to collect information about entire zip codes or other large groups of people.

“Although the bill approved by the House is intended to end bulk collection, we are not at all confident that it would actually do so,” the three senators wrote in their op-ed.

Senators are currently hammering out details on their version of the bill, with an eye toward passage later this summer.

At a rare public Senate Intelligence Committee hearing earlier this month, multiple members of the panel were skeptical about moving forward with sweeping reforms, which they worried could hogtie agencies trying to protect the country from terrorists.