DelBene sponsors bill to curb government surveillance

Posted by JOHN STARK on November 1, 2013 

U.S. Rep. Suzan DelBene has announced that she is co-sponsoring a bill aimed at curbing NSA surveillance of Americans.

According to the press release from her office, the bill has bipartisan support, as well as endorsements from a wide range of organizations, including the National Rifle Association and the American Civil Liberties Union.

DelBene, a Democrat, represents the 1st District, including most of Whatcom County outside Bellingham.

Here is the press release:

WASHINGTON – Congresswoman Suzan DelBene joined Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) in co-sponsoring bipartisan legislation to rein in the blanket surveillance of Americans by the National Security Agency (NSA), increase Americans’ privacy rights, and require greater transparency, oversight, and accountability of government surveillance programs.

The USA Freedom Act ends the bulk collection of data of Americans’ communication records, increases the transparency of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), allows internet and telecom companies to publicly report information regarding government requests for users’ data and creates an independent Office of the Special Advocate tasked with promoting the privacy interests of the American public before FISC.

“Like the American public, I was outraged and deeply troubled by the revelations earlier this year of how far-reaching and invasive our government’s surveillance programs have become.  As additional details have come to light about these secret programs, I have joined with colleagues on both sides of the aisle, many of whom have supported and even drafted the original PATRIOT Act after 9/11, to scrutinize the legal authorities for these programs.  This bill is the result of this effort, and now Congress must act to rein in the government’s surveillance programs and end the bulk collection of the communications records of millions of innocent Americans,” said DelBene, who is a member of the House Judiciary Committee. “The USA Freedom Act includes reforms that ensure vigorous oversight, transparency and accountability of our nation’s surveillance programs. It strikes the right balance between protecting our privacy and national security.”

A Senate companion to the USA Freedom Act is also being introduced this week, led by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), and 15 bipartisan cosponsors.  This bill is also supported by diverse stakeholders, ranging from the National Rifle Association to the American Civil Liberties Union.  A list of supporters can be found here.

The USA Freedom Act has a number of provisions, including:

End bulk collection of Americans’ communications records

·         The USA Freedom Act ends bulk collection under Section 215 of the Patriot Act.  The bill would require that tangible things sought are relevant to an authorized investigation into international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities and pertain to (1) a foreign power or agent of a foreign power, (2) the activities of a suspected agent of a foreign power who is the subject of an investigation, or (3) an individual in contact with, or known to, a suspected agent of a foreign power.

·         The bill would also strengthen the prohibition on "reverse targeting" of Americans—that is, targeting a foreigner with the goal of obtaining communications involving an American.

·         The bill requires the government to more aggressively filter and discard information about Americans accidentally collected through PRISM and related programs.

Reform the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court

·         The USA Freedom Act creates an Office of the Special Advocate (OSA) tasked with promoting privacy interests before the FISA court’s closed proceedings. The OSA will have the authority to appeal decisions of the FISA court. It will be staffed by attorneys who are properly cleared to view the classified information considered by the FISA court.

·         The bill creates new and more robust reporting requirements to ensure that Congress is aware of actions by the FISC and intelligence community as a whole.

·         The bill would grant the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board subpoena authority to investigate issues related to privacy and national security.

Increase Transparency:

·         The USA Freedom Act requires the Attorney General to publicly disclose all FISC decisions issued after July 10, 2003 that contain a significant construction or interpretation of law.  Disclosures must include public documents sufficient to:  (1) identify each legal question addressed; (2) generally describe the issues; (3) describe the construction and interpretation of a statute, constitutional provision, or other legal authority; and (4) indicate whether the decision departs from a prior decision. 

·         Private companies are currently barred from disclosing basic information about their participation in NSA surveillance programs. Under the bill, Internet and telecom companies would be allowed to publicly report an estimate of (1) the number of FISA orders and national security letters received, (2) the number of such orders and letters complied with, and (3) the number of users or accounts on whom information was demanded under the orders and letters.

·         The bill would also require the government to make new public reports on FISA orders. Specifically, the government would be required to make annual or semiannual public reports estimating the total number of individuals and U.S. persons that were subject to FISA orders authorizing electronic surveillance, pen/trap devices, and access to business records.

National Security Letters

·         The USA Freedom Act adopts a single standard for Section 215 and NSL protection to ensure the Administration doesn’t use different authorities to support bulk collection.


·         The bill adds a sunset date to NSLs requiring that Congress reauthorize the government’s authority thereby ensuring proper congressional review.


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