Key Senate Dems push for stronger NSA reform

Two of the Senate's most vocal critics of the National Security Agency are pledging to toughen up a new bill reforming the nation's surveillance programs.

Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Mark Udall (D-Colo.) praised Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy's (D-Vt.) bill but said it does not go far enough.

They said Leahy's USA Freedom Act was a “vast improvement” over the House version, but they argued it did not do enough to protect U.S. citizens from being spied on through a foreign intelligence authority.

While intelligence officials say that authority is aimed only at foreigners located abroad, privacy advocates worry it could be used to target U.S. citizens while skirting Fourth Amendment protections.

Wyden and Udall also complained that the bill lacks provisions to end the backdoor and warrantless searches of personal electronic communications.

They pointed to a recent report from the director of national intelligence “that the NSA, CIA and FBI conduct warrantless searches of communications of Americans that are swept up under this authority.”

While the House-passed USA Freedom Act did not address those searches, the House approved an amendment to the defense-funding bill that would keep intelligence agencies from conducting warrantless searches of U.S. citizens' communications.

Wyden and Udall pledged to work to have those kinds of limits put into the bill as it moves forward.

"Congress needs to close this loophole, and we look forward to working with Chairman Leahy and our colleagues to address this issue when the bill comes before the full U.S. Senate,” they said.