Some of the strongest reforms to the U.S. national security apparatus ever introduced in Congress were revived Tuesday by a pair of congressmen in the House of Representatives.
Wisconsin Democratic Rep. Mark Pocan and Kentucky Republican Rep. Thomas Massie announced in a press release their intention to reintroduce the Surveillance State Repeal Act — a bill first introduced following the Snowden leaks in 2013 that would completely repeal the Patriot Act and the 2008 FISA Amendments Act, as well as introduce reforms to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.
The bill would legally dismantle the National Security Agency’s most aggressive surveillance programs, including the bulk collection and retention of virtually all Americans’ landline phone records justified under Section 215 of the Patriot Act. The repeal of the 2008 FISA Amendments Act would also prevent the agency from tapping the physical infrastructure of the Internet, such as undersea fiber cables, to intercept “upstream” data in bulk, which critics including the ACLU claim the NSA uses to collect data on Americans. (RELATED: Wikipedia Tells Reddit Why It Thinks It Can Win A Lawsuit Against NSA)
Under the new law the FISA Court, which approves secret surveillance requests by the NSA and other intelligence agencies, would be appointed technology experts to advise judges on the privacy implications of government surveillance requests. The court would also be held to new standards for issuing warrants for all surveillance based on probable cause, as opposed to the current lesser standard of reasonable suspicion.
The bill would make it illegal to prosecute whistleblowers like former NSA contractor Edward Snowden and prevent the government from mandating companies build “backdoors” into their privacy encryption products like those currently sought by the FBI. (RELATED: Wyden: Don’t Give The FBI Backdoors Into Americans’ Cellphones)
“Really, what we need are new whistleblower protections so that the next Edward Snowden doesn’t have to go to Russia or Hong Kong or whatever the case may be just for disclosing this,” Massie said during a Capitol Hill briefing Tuesday, according to The Hill.
“The warrantless collection of millions of personal communications from innocent Americans is a direct violation of our constitutional right to privacy,” Pocan said in the statement. “Revelations about the NSA’s programs reveal the extraordinary extent to which the program has invaded Americans’ privacy.”
“I reject the notion that we must sacrifice liberty for security — we can live in a secure nation which also upholds a strong commitment to civil liberties. This legislation ends the NSA’s dragnet surveillance practices, while putting provisions in place to protect the privacy of American citizens through real and lasting change.”
After failing the first time in 2013 amid the immediate public backlash from the Snowden leaks, the bill will likely be dead on arrival in Congress, where much weaker reforms failed to pass the Senate as a result of last-minute Republican attacks — all that while the chamber was still in Democratic control. (RELATED: Senate Sinks NSA Reform)
Even without the bill, there’s the potential for at least some action on NSA reform by the middle of the year. With key provisions of the Patriot Act set to expire on June 1, Republicans have yet to introduce a proposal of their own in a climate with zero expectation that a reauthorization will pass in its current form. (RELATED: Lawmakers Push To Pass NSA Bill Before Patriot Act Expires)