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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 McCarthyDemocrats were united on top issues this Congress — but will it hold? Top Republicans praise Trump's Flynn pardon Richmond says GOP 'reluctant to stand up and tell the emperor he wears no clothes' 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 WydenTwo more parting shots from Trump aimed squarely at disabled workers On The Money: Push for student loan forgiveness puts Biden in tight spot | Trump is wild card as shutdown fears grow | Mnuchin asks Fed to return 5 billion in unspent COVID emergency funds Grassley, Wyden criticize Treasury guidance concerning PPP loans MORE (D-Ore.) and Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulCongress set for chaotic year-end sprint McConnell halts in-person Republican lunches amid COVID-19 surge Biden's Cabinet a battleground for future GOP White House hopefuls MORE (R-Ky.) and Reps. Justin AmashJustin AmashIncoming GOP lawmaker shares video of hotel room workout, citing 'Democrat tyrannical control' Rundown of the House seats Democrats, GOP flipped on Election Day Romney congratulates Biden after victory MORE (R-Mich.) and Zoe LofgrenZoe Ellen LofgrenHillicon Valley: Four major tech issues facing the Biden administration | Pressure grows to reinstate White House cyber czar | Facebook, Google to extend political ad bans House report says lawmakers could securely cast remote votes amid pandemic Why prevailing wage reform matters for H-1B visas 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."