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.

ADVERTISEMENT
The letter adds support for Sen. Patrick Leahy’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 Cruz (R-Texas), Al Franken (D-Minn.) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.).

Still, the path forward is uncertain.

Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Mark Udall (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 Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Saxby Chambliss (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.