Liberal groups, transparency advocates and the whistleblower behind the Pentagon Papers are coming out strongly against a Senate bill to reform the National Security Agency (NSA), arguing the reforms it contains are inadequate.
Activists and whistleblowers told members of Congress in a letter on Monday that Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick LeahyPatrick LeahyLawmakers talk climate for Earth Day, Science March Poll: Sanders most popular senator in the US Senate Dems offer bill to restore internet privacy rules MORE’s (D-Vt.) USA Freedom Act “contains ambiguities that are ripe for abuse” and “fails to protect against future privacy invasions of innocent people.”
“Our fundamental civil rights — the human rights we hold dear — are not adequately protected by either the Senate or House versions of the USA Freedom Act,” wrote the groups and individuals, including the Sunlight Foundation, CREDO Action, the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, Daniel Ellsberg and Thomas Drake.
The new backlash could hinder the bill, which was already on a tight path to the Senate floor.
Though the USA Freedom Act has attracted bipartisan support and backing from tech companies, civil liberties groups and the Obama administration, some lawmakers are critical of it.
Some of the Senate’s biggest defense hawks fear the bill could hamper intelligence officials and open the country up to attacks from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and other terrorist groups.
Meanwhile, Sens. Ron WydenRon WydenWyden pushing to mandate 'basic cybersecurity' for Senate Consumer groups blast DHS head for seeking travelers' social media passwords Senate Dem at Tax March: 'We’re taking the gloves off' MORE (D-Ore.) and Mark UdallMark UdallPicking 2018 candidates pits McConnell vs. GOP groups Gorsuch's critics, running out of arguments, falsely scream 'sexist' Election autopsy: Latinos favored Clinton more than exit polls showed MORE (D-Colo.), two major privacy advocates, have pushed for the bill to go further in favor of civil liberties.
With time on the congressional calendar ticking away and midterm elections coming in November, supporters of the bill are under pressure to convince Senate leaders to move forward. The job may only get harder after the elections, if Republicans gain control of the upper chamber and feel they can craft a bill friendlier to their party.
One question mark for the bill is the level of support from Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne FeinsteinDianne FeinsteinHotel industry details plans to fight Airbnb Congress needs a do-over on fraud-laden 'Immigrant Investor' program Ginsburg appears to refer to Graham as one of 'the women of the Senate' MORE (D-Calif.). She has seemed skeptical of Leahy’s bill, but is still in discussions with him about possible changes and seems interested in getting something done this year.
The House passed a reform bill for the NSA earlier this year, though many of the agency's biggest critics said it was too weak to be effective.