Privacy advocates hail Senate ‘first step’ on NSA reform

Dozens of privacy and civil liberties advocacy groups want leaders of Congress to move on the Senate’s version of a bill to rein in the National Security Agency.

Organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union, FreedomWorks, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute, called the Senate measure “an important first step toward necessary comprehensive surveillance reform” in a letter sent on Wednesday evening, though they noted it “does not include all of the necessary reforms” they would like.

The letter adds support for Sen. Patrick LeahyPatrick LeahyKey GOP chairman calls for 'robust review' of AT&T-Time Warner deal Dem asks for 'highest level of scrutiny' on AT&T-Time Warner deal Report: Investor visa program mainly funds wealthy areas MORE’s (D-Vt.) version of the USA Freedom Act, which would end the NSA’s bulk collection of Americans’ phone records, limit the agency to narrow searches of privately held records and add new provisions for transparency about the snooping.

“We urge the Senate and the House to pass it quickly, and without making any amendments that would weaken the important changes,” the 44 groups wrote in their letter.

For critics of the NSA, Leahy’s surveillance reform bill was a significant improvement over the version passed by the House earlier this year, which opponents said had been gutted by the time it hit the floor.

Tech companies have also backed Leahy’s measure, and 13 senators from both sides of the aisle have signed on as co-sponsors, including divergent voices like Sens. Ted CruzTed CruzBrent Budowsky: An epic battle for the future of Congress Cruz: Precedent exists for keeping Supreme Court short-staffed Commerce official will hit critics of domain name transition MORE (R-Texas), Al FrankenAl FrankenFCC privacy rules veer off course in eleventh hour White House contest casts shadow over mega-deal Obama takes aim at workers’ non-compete agreements MORE (D-Minn.) and Ed MarkeyEd MarkeyFCC approves new privacy rules for 'sensitive' internet data Senate Dems target Wells Fargo auditor Senate Dems want major women's golf event moved off Trump course MORE (D-Mass.).

Still, the path forward is uncertain.

Sens. Ron WydenRon WydenCanada expresses willingness to finish softwood lumber deal Dem pushes Treasury for info on Syria sanctions The holy grail of tax policy MORE (D-Ore.) and Mark UdallMark UdallColorado GOP Senate race to unseat Dem incumbent is wide open Energy issues roil race for Senate Unable to ban Internet gambling, lawmakers try for moratorium MORE (D-Colo.), two of the Senate’s largest critics of the NSA, declined to co-sponsor the bill and have urged it to go further to end “backdoor” searches of Americans through a law targeting foreigners. 

Additionally, more hawkish lawmakers like Sens. Dianne FeinsteinDianne FeinsteinEverything you need to know about the National Guard's bonus controversy Lawmakers praise bonus-clawback suspension, pledge permanent fix Defense chief pledges to 'resolve' bonus clawback issue MORE (D-Calif.) and Saxby ChamblissSaxby ChamblissWyden hammers CIA chief over Senate spying Cruz is a liability Inside Paul Ryan’s brain trust MORE (R-Ga.), the leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee, have been reluctant to get on board, even though the Obama administration has seemed to largely support the bill.