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.

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The letter adds support for Sen. Patrick LeahyPatrick LeahySenate panel sets vote on Sessions for AG Obama admin injects another 0M into global climate fund Justice, FBI to be investigated over Clinton probes 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 CruzGraham, Cruz proposal to defund the U.N. is misguided Right renews push for term limits as Trump takes power Dissenting nominees give hope to GOP skeptics of Trump MORE (R-Texas), Al FrankenAl FrankenSenators introduce dueling miners bills Overnight Healthcare: CBO projects 18M could lose coverage after ObamaCare repeal Interior pick walks fine line on climate, highlights conservation MORE (D-Minn.) and Ed MarkeyEd MarkeyWHIP LIST: How many Dems will back Sessions? Confirm Inga Bernstein for the District of Massachusetts FCC takes aim at AT&T, Verizon over 'zero-rating' services MORE (D-Mass.).

Still, the path forward is uncertain.

Sens. Ron WydenRon WydenOvernight Finance: New focus on lawmakers' stock trades | Lingering questions about Trump ethics | Trump Treasury pick gets support from ex-mortgage assistance leader Dems want Sessions to recuse himself from Trump-Russia probe MORE (D-Ore.) and Mark UdallMark UdallLive coverage: Tillerson's hearing for State The rise and possible fall of the ‘Card’ in politics Gardner's chief of staff tapped for Senate GOP campaign director 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 FeinsteinFeinstein to hold campaign fundraisers, a hint she'll run again Feinstein: Russia's interference affected outcome of election 'Future of America' at stake with hacking, Feinstein says 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.