Senate set to debate privacy amendments to surveillance bill on Thursday

Senators reached an agreement late last week to begin debate on four amendments to the bill when the Senate reconvenes on Thursday morning, according to a Senate Democratic aide.

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The advocacy groups charge that the surveillance law could be used to sweep up American citizens' phone and email communications without a warrant, and say it's unclear whether this has already happened under the law. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Electronic Frontier Foundation argued that public should hear how the amendments could boost the privacy protections in the FAA, which is set to expire on Dec. 31.

The measure gives U.S. officials the authority to conduct surveillance on suspected terrorists abroad without a court order. 

"We're very happy that they're going to have several hours dedicated to debate, and have a chance to talk about some of these amendments," said Michelle Richardson, a legislative counsel in the ACLU's Washington office. "It looks like there's a possibility they might try to get [the bill] through without any, so this is an important first step."

Still, Richardson noted that it will be a challenge to get the amendments adopted into the final bill.

"I think we're realistic that it's an uphill battle, but dozens of members have voted against this [bill] or in support of amendments in the past," she said.

The Senate will debate a substitute amendment from Sen. Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyCongress hunts for path out of spending stalemate This week: House kicks off public phase of impeachment inquiry Senators press NSA official over shuttered phone surveillance program MORE (D-Vt.) that was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee on a party-line vote this summer. It includes oversight-focused measures and a sunset provision that aligns the FAA with the expiration of certain measures in the Patriot Act, "thereby enabling Congress to evaluate all of the expiring surveillance provisions of FISA together, instead of dealing with them in piecemeal fashion," Leahy said in a July statement.

Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenDemocratic senators introduce bill to block funding for border wall live stream Booker, Sanders propose new federal agency to control drug prices Hillicon Valley: Amazon to challenge Pentagon cloud contract in court | State antitrust investigation into Google expands | Intel agencies no longer collecting location data without warrant MORE (D-Ore.), an outspoken critic of the surveillance bill, will offer an amendment that would require the Director of National Intelligence to report to Congress on whether any domestic email or phone communications were collected by a government entity under the FAA, among other privacy implications of the law. The Senate will also debate an amendment from Sen. Jeff MerkleyJeffrey (Jeff) Alan MerkleyDemocrats seize on report of FedEx's Jeff Merkley tax bill to slam Trump's tax plan Overnight Energy: Perry replacement faces Ukraine questions at hearing | Dem chair demands answers over land agency's relocation | Ocasio-Cortez, Sanders unveil 0B Green New Deal public housing plan Ocasio-Cortez, Sanders unveil 0B Green New Deal public housing plan MORE (D-Ore.) that would require the government to declassify the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court's opinions on surveillance requests. 

Richardson called these amendments "moderate" and said they don't limit the collection of foreign intelligence.

"They're really just about transparency and accountability," she said.

Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulGOP divided over impeachment trial strategy Trump: 'Everybody knows who the whistleblower is' Johnson opens door to subpoenaing whistleblower, Schiff, Bidens MORE (R-Ky.) is offering an measure on Fourth Amendment searches and seizures.

GOP members have signaled that they want to pass the same version of the FAA as the House, which reauthorized the 2008 law without adding any amendments. Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidThe Memo: Democrats confront prospect of long primary Bottom Line Lobbying world MORE (D-Nev.) tried to bring up the measure with a handful of amendments last week, but Sen. Saxby ChamblissClarence (Saxby) Saxby ChamblissThe Hill's Morning Report - Gillibrand drops out as number of debaters shrinks Hoekstra emerges as favorite for top intelligence post Republicans say Democrats holding up disaster relief as 'Sandy payback' MORE (R-Ga.) objected and asked why the Senate couldn't vote on the same five-year extension that the House passed.

Chambliss noted that the Obama administration is in favor of the reauthorization.


This post was updated at 6:42 p.m.