Post-PRISM, US senators introduce bill to limit PATRIOT Act

Leahy, along with senators Mark Udall (D-Colo.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Mike Lee (R-Utah), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and John Tester (D-Mt.), introduced the FISA Accountability and Privacy Protection Act of 2013, which would limit the scope of Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act.

“The recent public revelations about two classified data collection programs have brought renewed attention to the Government’s broad surveillance authorities, and they underscore the need for close scrutiny by Congress,” Leahy said in a statement.

The law will require the government to show both relevance to an authorized investigation and a link to a foreign group or power. The bill also adds more meaningful judicial review of Section 215 orders and strikes the one-year waiting period before a recipient can challenge a nondisclosure order for Section 215 orders.

The measure would also require court review of minimization procedures when information concerning a US-based person is acquired, retained, or disseminated pursuant to a Section 215 order.

“This is a commonsense oversight requirement that is already required for other FISA authorities – such as wiretaps, physical searches, and pen register and trap and trace devices,” Leahy noted.

Although they’re not directly related to the PRISM mass data collection effort, the Act takes on National Security Letters (or NSLs) too, which are used extensively by law enforcement and the intelligence community, and can be issued without the approval of a court, grand jury or prosecutor. The bill proposes to apply a new sunset to the NSL authority.

The bill would also address constitutional deficiencies regarding nondisclosure or “gag orders” by finally allowing individuals to challenge these orders in court, and would expand public reporting on the use of NSLs and FISA authorities, including an unclassified report on the impact of the use of these authorities on the privacy of US-based persons.

“I have long been concerned about the broad scope of these secret requests, and the potential for expansive collection of sensitive information without appropriate limitations, and a sunset provision would help to ensure proper accountability,” Leahy said.

"My bill will also address the FISA Amendments Act, shortening the existing June 2017 sunset to June 2015 to align with the PATRIOT Act sunsets, enabling Congress to address these FISA provisions all at once, rather than in a piecemeal fashion.

The senator added the legislation will also increase accountability by clarifying the scope of annual reviews currently required by law and extend to all agencies that have a role in developing targeting and minimization procedures.  Leahy added the bill seeks to increase oversight by requiring the Inspector General of the Intelligence Community to conduct a comprehensive review of the FISA Amendments Act and its impact on the privacy rights of Americans.

“These are all commonsense, practical improvements that will ensure that the broad and powerful surveillance tools being used by the government are subject to appropriate limitations, transparency and oversight,” Leahy said. “The American people deserve to know how laws like the USA PATRIOT Act and the FISA Amendments Act are being used to conduct electronic surveillance, particularly when it involves the collection of data on innocent Americans.”


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