Lawmakers introduce bipartisan bill to end NSA's mass phone data collection program

A group of bipartisan lawmakers on Thursday introduced a bill that would end the National Security Agency's (NSA) mass collection of U.S. phone data. 

The bill's introduction by a group of civil libertarian lawmakers comes weeks after a national security aide to House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthyThe Hill's Morning Report - DC preps for massive Saturday protest; Murkowski breaks with Trump The Hill's Morning Report - Floyd eulogies begin; Trump-Esper conflict emerges The Hill's Morning Report - Protesters' defiance met with calls to listen MORE (R-Calif.) revealed that the NSA has shuttered its call-detail records program. 

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The Ending Mass Collection of Americans’ Phone Records Act would end the program for good, taking away the NSA's authority to restart it. The bill was introduced by privacy hawks Sens. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenCBO releases analysis on extending increased unemployment benefits Overnight Health Care: Hydroxychloroquine ineffective in preventing COVID-19, study finds | WHO to resume hydroxychloroquine clinical research | WHO says no evidence coronavirus is mutating Bipartisan lawmakers press Trump administration to get COVID-19 aid to Medicaid providers MORE (D-Ore.) and Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulPaul clashes with Booker, Harris over anti-lynching bill Rand Paul holding up quick passage of anti-lynching bill Democratic senator to offer amendment halting 'military weaponry' given to police MORE (R-Ky.) and Reps. Justin AmashJustin AmashMark Cuban says he's decided not to run for president Amash readying legislation allowing victims to sue officers The Hill's Morning Report - Trump mobilizes military against 'angry mob,' holds controversial photo op MORE (R-Mich.) and Zoe LofgrenZoe Ellen LofgrenThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - George Floyd's death sparks protests, National Guard activation Hillicon Valley: Trump signs order targeting social media legal protections | House requests conference with Senate after FISA vote canceled | Minneapolis systems temporarily brought down by hackers House punts on FISA, votes to begin negotiations with Senate MORE (D-Calif.). 

“This bill permanently stops one of the sprawling surveillance state's most intrusive overreaches and is the first step in a movement to reclaim the constitutional liberties sacrificed by the overreaching provisions of the PATRIOT Act,” Paul said in a statement. 

The call-detail records program gathered metadata on domestic text messages and phone calls, which privacy activists have long said allows the government to access extremely detailed private information about U.S. citizens. 

The NSA program was authorized by the 2015 USA Freedom Act, which is up for reauthorization later this year. A major congressional battle has been expected over the reauthorization of the surveillance program's legal authority, often referred to as Section 215, which is one of the USA Freedom Act's most highly contested provisions. 

The USA Freedom Act, passed by Congress in 2015, authorized a pared-down version of the phone records program created by the Patriot Act after the 9/11 attacks. The 2015 law provides some safeguards against aspects of the program deemed overly invasive, but Congress renewed the government’s authority to sweep up troves of data on millions of U.S. citizens for national security purposes.

“There are more substantial reforms that Congress can make to the Patriot Act authorities expiring this year to protect Americans’ Constitutional rights,” Lofgren said in a statement. “We must also ensure that the 2015 reforms of THE USA FREEDOM Act are working as intended." 

Lofgren in her statement called the bill ending the NSA call records program "uncontroversial." 

Privacy groups, which have been pushing for months for Congress to take away the NSA's authority to collect phone records from U.S. citizens, hailed the legislation. 

“The CDR Program was an ill-advised attempt to preserve the NSA's dubiously claimed authority to programmatically collect the records of people who have never been in contact with a person suspected of wrongdoing," Sean Vitka, policy counsel with digital rights group Demand Progress, said in a statement. "These mass surveillance programs have never stopped a single terrorist attack, but they have consistently violated both the letter and spirit of the law."