Senators repackage surveillance bills as comprehensive reform

Four Senators who had been working separately to reform U.S. surveillance programs announced Thursday that they are introducing a comprehensive reform bill.

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The reform package is “the most comprehensive, bipartisan intelligence reform proposal since the disclosures” earlier this year, Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenOvernight Health Care — Sponsored by PCMA — Abortion rights group plans M campaign to flip the House The federal judiciary needs more Latino judges Senate Dems to Mnuchin: Don't index capital gains to inflation MORE (D-Ore.) said of the reform package being introduced by himself and Sens. Mark UdallMark Emery UdallSenate GOP rejects Trump’s call to go big on gun legislation Democratic primary could upend bid for Colorado seat Picking 2018 candidates pits McConnell vs. GOP groups MORE (D-Colo.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulPro-Trump super PAC raises .5 million in 6 weeks Trump has exposed Democratic hypocrisy on prison reform Overnight Energy: Reporters barred from Day 2 of EPA summit | Dems blame Trump for gas price increases | Massachusetts to get new offshore wind farm MORE (R-Ky.).

The bill will combine elements of legislation that had been pushed by the four lawmakers.

It would ban the bulk collections of electronic communications and telephone data, require the intelligence community to get a search warrant before searching for the communications of innocent Americans, reform the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) to include a constitutional advocate, allow people to challenge the constitutionality of surveillance programs in open court and bring more transparency to the surveillance programs.

“These are common sense reforms” that protects Americans’ privacy without sacrificing the intelligence community’s ability to protect against national security threats, Udall said.

Constitutional challenges to surveillance programs can be debated in an open court without sacrificing national security, Paul, who introduced legislation that would require a warrant for access to Americans' communciations, said. Names can be redacted from documents, but the constitutionality of surveillance is “something we can debate out in the open,” he said.

Udall was critical of NSA defenders who say the surveillance programs – especially the program involving the bulk collection of telephony metadata – have been critical in detecting and preventing threats.

There has been an inaccurate “conflating of 702 and 215,” he said referring to the telephone and electronic communications surveillance programs.

The bulk collection of telephony metadata under Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act has “not provided unique value” in stopping threats, he said. The oft-quoted figure that the data has led to the prevention of 54 threats “does not stand up to scrutiny.”

The lawmakers said they are optimistic the reform measures will move. “I believe we have exceptional momentum right now,” Wyden said.

President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaTrump taps vocal anti-illegal immigration advocate for State Dept's top refugee job The federal judiciary needs more Latino judges Obama plans to use Netflix deal to stop political divisiveness MORE has already “virtually endorsed” the idea of a person to argue for constitutional principles at FISC, Blumenthal – whose FISC reform bill comprises a large part of the comprehensive package – said.

By introducing the bill, the Senators are hoping to shape the debate. As the Senate Intelligence and Judiciary Committees are slated to examine surveillance programs, “we’re launching the debate with an actual bill” to set the bar high on surveillance reform, Wyden said.