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Civil liberties groups urge Senate to debate surveillance bill

Reid is currently in discussions with lawmakers about taking up the bill with a limited number of amendments, a Senate aide said. Sens. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenOvernight Health Care: Biden slams Texas, Mississippi for lifting coronavirus restrictions: 'Neanderthal thinking' | Senate panel splits along party lines on Becerra |Over 200K sign up for ACA plans during Biden special enrollment period Raimondo has won confirmation, but the fight to restrict export technology to China continues Senate panel splits along party lines on Becerra MORE (D-Ore.) and Jeff MerkleyJeff MerkleyBipartisan bill would ban lawmakers from buying, selling stocks Pentagon prevented immediate response to mob, says Guard chief OVERNIGHT ENERGY: House Democrats reintroduce road map to carbon neutrality by 2050 | Kerry presses oil companies to tackle climate change | Biden delays transfer of sacred lands for copper mine MORE (D-Ore.) are among the senators that hope to have their amendments considered.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and Free Press have pressed the public to contact their senators this week about debating these amendments. The groups charge that the surveillance measure lacks transparency and could be used to sweep up American citizens' communications without a warrant.

In a blog post published on Wednesday, EFF called for more transparency about how the law works.

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"Senate leaders, Democrat Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidWho is the Senate parliamentarian and why is she important? Trumpists' assaults on Republicans who refuse to drink the Kool-Aid will help Democrats The Jan. 6 case for ending the Senate filibuster MORE and Republican Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellGarland's AG nomination delayed by GOP roadblocks DOJ declined to take up Chao ethics probe Trump was unhinged and unchanged at CPAC MORE, owe the American public a debate about this law—including how many Americans have been scooped up in it, how many times it has been used in non-terrorism investigations and how much it has cost the American taxpayers," Trevor Timm, an activist at EFF, wrote in the post.

Michelle Richardson, a legislative counsel in the ACLU's Washington office, also said the Senate should take some time to debate a handful of amendments to the bill rather than just passing a clean five-year extension of it.

Richardson said voting on the amendments would be an "opportunity to make even the most modest of changes to one of the most sweeping surveillance laws passed since 9/11."

The bill is set to expire on Dec. 31. The House voted in favor of reauthorizing the measure in September without adding any amendments—which GOP senators hope to do as well. 

Merkley plans to offer an amendment that would require the government to declassify the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court's opinions on surveillance requests. Wyden hopes to offer an amendment that would prevent intelligence officials from searching through the communications they've collected under the surveillance law for emails or phone calls of specific Americans.

Reid tried to bring up the measure with a handful of amendments on Tuesday, but Sen. Saxby ChamblissClarence (Saxby) Saxby ChamblissLive coverage: Georgia Senate runoffs Trump, Biden face new head-to-head contest in Georgia Ex-GOP senator from Georgia suffers mild stroke: report MORE (R-Ga.) objected to the move and asked why the Senate couldn't vote on the five-year extension that the House passed. Chambliss noted that the Obama administration came out in support of the House-passed version of the bill.