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 LeahyGrassley hints at changes on email privacy reform Stick to the facts on the Cuba travel ban 19 months before deadline, lawmakers draw battle lines on spying powers 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 CruzTrump wins Washington state primary Overnight Cybersecurity: House to offer bill on government hacking powers Overnight Tech: Rubio, Cruz take up internet domain fight MORE (R-Texas), Al FrankenAl FrankenSenators unveil bill to overhaul apprenticeship programs Dems pressure Obama on vow to resettle 10,000 Syrian refugees The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE (D-Minn.) and Ed MarkeyEd MarkeySanders pans chemical safety reform deal Feds fault pipeline company in California oil spill Dems pressure Obama on vow to resettle 10,000 Syrian refugees MORE (D-Mass.).

Still, the path forward is uncertain.

Sens. Ron WydenRon WydenSenate panel advances spy policy bill, after House approves its own version Overnight Cybersecurity: House to offer bill on government hacking powers House to offer bill blocking government hacking powers MORE (D-Ore.) and Mark UdallMark UdallEnergy issues roil race for Senate Unable to ban Internet gambling, lawmakers try for moratorium Two vulnerable senators lack challengers for 2016 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 FeinsteinSenate panel advances spy policy bill, after House approves its own version Apple hires leading security expert amid encryption fight Dem slams GOP for skipping vote on 'back doors' in devices 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.