House effort would completely dismantle Patriot Act

A pair of House lawmakers wants to completely repeal the Patriot Act and other legal provisions to dramatically rein in American spying.

Reps. Mark PocanMark William PocanOn the USMCA, Pelosi can't take yes for an answer Overnight Defense: House approves 3 billion defense bill | Liberal sweeteners draw progressive votes | Bill includes measure blocking Trump from military action on Iran House approves defense bill after adding liberal sweeteners MORE (D-Wis.) and Thomas MassieThomas Harold MassieThe 27 Republicans who voted with Democrats to block Trump from taking military action against Iran House sends Trump border aid bill after Pelosi caves to pressure from moderates GOP scores procedural win by securing more funding to enforce Iran sanctions MORE (R-Ky.) on Tuesday unveiled their Surveillance State Repeal Act, which would overhaul American spying powers unlike any other effort to reform the National Security Agency.

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“This isn’t just tinkering around the edges,” Pocan said during a Capitol Hill briefing on the legislation. “This is a meaningful overhaul of the system, getting rid of essentially all parameters of the Patriot Act.”

The bill would completely repeal the Patriot Act, the sweeping national security law passed in the days after Sept. 11, 2001, as well as the 2008 FISA Amendments Act, another spying law that the NSA has used to justify collecting vast swaths of people's communications through the Internet.

It would also reform the secretive court that oversees the nation’s spying powers, prevent the government from forcing tech companies to create “backdoors” into their devices and create additional protections for whistleblowers.

“Really, what we need are new whistleblower protections so that the next Edward Snowden doesn’t have to go to Russia or Hong Kong or whatever the case may be just for disclosing this,” Massie said.

The bill is likely to be a nonstarter for leaders in Congress, who have been worried that even much milder reforms to the nation’s spying laws would tragically handicap the nation’s ability to fight terrorists. A similar bill was introduced in 2013 but failed to gain any movement in the House.

Yet advocates might be hoping that their firm opposition to government spying will seem more attractive in coming weeks, as lawmakers race to beat a June 1 deadline for reauthorizing portions of the Patriot Act.

Reformers have eyed that deadline as their last best chance for reforming some controversial NSA programs, after an effort failed in the Senate last year.