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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 Joseph LeahyGrassley, Dems step up battle over judicial nominees Popular bill to fight drug prices left out of budget deal Judiciary Dems want public hearings with Kushner, Trump Jr. 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 CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzOvernight Health Care: Trump eases rules on insurance outside ObamaCare | HHS office on religious rights gets 300 complaints in a month | GOP chair eyes opioid bill vote by Memorial Day HHS official put on leave amid probe into social media posts Trump, Pence to address CPAC this week MORE (R-Texas), Al FrankenAlan (Al) Stuart FrankenShould the Rob Porter outcome set the standard? Grassley, Dems step up battle over judicial nominees Sen. Gillibrand, eyeing 2020 bid, rankles some Democrats MORE (D-Minn.) and Ed MarkeyEdward (Ed) John MarkeyRegulators seek to remove barriers to electric grid storage Markey, Paul want to know if new rules are helping opioid treatment Oil spill tax on oil companies reinstated as part of budget deal MORE (D-Mass.).

Still, the path forward is uncertain.

Sens. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenOvernight Health Care: Trump eases rules on insurance outside ObamaCare | HHS office on religious rights gets 300 complaints in a month | GOP chair eyes opioid bill vote by Memorial Day Trump eases rules on insurance sold outside of ObamaCare Grassley, Dems step up battle over judicial nominees MORE (D-Ore.) and Mark UdallMark Emery UdallDemocratic primary could upend bid for Colorado seat Picking 2018 candidates pits McConnell vs. GOP groups Gorsuch's critics, running out of arguments, falsely scream 'sexist' 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 Emiel FeinsteinLawmakers feel pressure on guns Feinstein: Trump must urge GOP to pass bump stock ban Florida lawmakers reject motion to consider bill that would ban assault rifles MORE (D-Calif.) and Saxby ChamblissClarence (Saxby) Saxby ChamblissLobbying World Former GOP senator: Let Dems engage on healthcare bill OPINION: Left-wing politics will be the demise of the Democratic Party 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.