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 WydenRon WydenOvernight Finance: McConnell offers 'clean' funding bill | Dems pan proposal | Flint aid, internet measure not included | More heat for Wells Fargo | New concerns on investor visas US wins aerospace subsidies trade case over the EU Wells CEO Stumpf resigns from Fed advisory panel MORE (D-Ore.) said of the reform package being introduced by himself and Sens. Mark UdallMark UdallColorado GOP Senate race to unseat Dem incumbent is wide open Energy issues roil race for Senate Unable to ban Internet gambling, lawmakers try for moratorium MORE (D-Colo.), Richard BlumenthalRichard BlumenthalOvernight Cybersecurity: Cyber questions for the debate | Dem wants Yahoo hack probe Takata says it failed to report airbag rupture in 2003 Dem senator urges SEC to investigate Yahoo MORE (D-Conn.) and Rand PaulRand PaulConservative group presses GOP to vote against spending bill Saudi skeptics gain strength in Congress Senators challenge status quo on Saudi arms sales 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 ObamaGreen Party nominee escorted off debate premises Obama defends work on tribal issues Charlotte requires race discussion Hillary, Democrats refuse to have 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.