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 PaulTrump’s relationship with Saudi crown prince under pressure Rand Paul: 'Evidence is overwhelming' that Saudi crown prince was involved in Khashoggi murder Sunday shows preview: New members preview agendas after Democratic House takeover MORE (R-Ky.) and Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenHillicon Valley: Russian-linked hackers may have impersonated US officials | Trump signs DHS cyber bill | Prosecutors inadvertently reveal charges against Assange | Accenture workers protest border enforcement work | App mines crypto for bail bonds Dems demand answers from AT&T, Verizon and Sprint on internet throttling claims Warren, 2020 Dems target private immigration detention center operators 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 CottonThomas (Tom) Bryant CottonSenate barrels toward showdown over Trump's court picks Trump set to have close ally Graham in powerful chairmanship McConnell: Criminal justice bill unlikely this year MORE (R-Ark.), would permanently reauthorize the program with no changes — but that bill is seen as unlikely to pass the House.