Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) was joined by a bipartisan, bicameral coalition of lawmakers on January 23 to propose a series of changes regarding government intelligence agencies’ surveillance.
The bill specifically addresses Section 215 of the Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act - also known as the USA PATRIOT Act - which came about following the terror attacks against the US on September 11, 2001, and grants the NSA authority to access US citizens’ phone records, GPS information, online browsing and search history and related communications.
Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), a co-sponsor of the legislation, expressed in Wyden’s press release that it’s Congress’ constitutional duty to reform Section 215, as the “Intelligence Community made it clear that it does not believe Fourth Amendment privacy protections” during previous public hearings.
The congresswoman contended that the proposed legislation “prevents the misuse of Section 215 by clarifying that simply calling an investigation an ‘intelligence investigation’ cannot be used to circumvent Americans’ Fourth Amendment protections.”
The Safeguarding Americans’ Private Records Act, which was formally introduced to the House of Representatives on January 24, proposes a number of reforms, including an end to the NSA’s surveillance program over Americans’ phone records and eliminate loopholes allowing government agencies ability to conduct “investigations of information that would otherwise require a warrant.”
Wyden took to social media on January 23 to note that the bill’s timing is deliberate, as Section 215 is set to expire on March 15, and will thus have to be replaced.
.@SteveDaines @RepZoeLofgren @WarrenDavidson @RepJayapal and I introduced this bipartisan bill in order to ensure that when Section 215 expires in just a few weeks, its replacement doesn't become another vehicle for the abuse of Americans' constitutional rights.— Ron Wyden (@RonWyden) January 23, 2020
Commenting on the bill in Wyden’s release, Josh Withrow, senior policy analyst for the DC-based conservative and libertarian advocacy group FreedomWorks, said that it is “an enormous step forward in securing” Americans’ Fourth Amendment rights that are otherwise “trampled on” by current legislation.
“It would also greatly increase the transparency and oversight needed to ensure that abuses such as the NSA's phone metadata dragnet cannot happen again,” he noted.