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Senators introduce surveillance reform bill

Senators introduce surveillance reform bill
© Greg Nash

A group of 11 senators on Tuesday unveiled a proposal to substantially reform the National Security Agency’s warrantless surveillance program, potentially complicating renewal efforts underway in both chambers.

The proposal, led by Sens. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulTwo Loeffler staffers test positive for COVID-19 Michigan Republican isolating after positive coronavirus test GOP Rep. Mike Bost tests positive for COVID-19 MORE (R-Ky.) and Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenPlaintiff and defendant from Obergefell v. Hodges unite to oppose Barrett's confirmation Senate Democrats call for ramped up Capitol coronavirus testing House Democrats slam FCC chairman over 'blatant attempt to help' Trump MORE (D-Ore.), would require investigators to obtain a warrant to query data belonging to Americans collected under the program. 

It would reauthorize the program for four years, but would add a compendium of other privacy and oversight protections to the existing framework.

The libertarian-leaning Paul is the only Republican to sign onto the proposal. It’s unclear how many changes the group will be able to force to the controversial program, seen by federal investigators as one of the most vital tools the U.S. has to identify and disrupt terror plots.

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The law authorizing the program, known as Section 702, is due to sunset at the end of this year.

It allows the government to collect emails and text messages sent by foreign spies, terrorists and other foreign targets overseas. Under the law, federal investigators are allowed to search that database for Americans who may have communicated with a foreign target.

The Trump administration has been stumping hard for a clean, permanent reauthorization of the program.

But civil liberties advocates say the current law infringes on the Fourth Amendment and lawmakers from both chambers have said that a clean renewal does not have the votes to pass the House.

The Paul-Wyden proposal joins a handful of other reform proposals. The Senate Intelligence Committee is set to vote on its own proposal behind closed doors on Tuesday afternoon. Reform advocates do not believe that bill will address their concerns with the so-called “backdoor search loophole.”

Meanwhile, the House Judiciary Committee has circulated its own bill proposing modest reforms that key Republicans have already characterized as too narrow. That legislation would require investigators to obtain a warrant to use or share Americans' data — but not to search the database.

Another proposal, from Sen. Tom CottonTom Bryant CottonCotton mocks NY Times over claim of nonpartisanship, promises to submit op-eds as test Barrett fight puts focus on abortion in 2020 election COVID outbreak threatens GOP's Supreme Court plans MORE (R-Ark.), would permanently reauthorize the program with no changes — but that bill is seen as unlikely to pass the House.