In a more interesting, potentially productive move than I would have thought Sen. Harry Reid capable of, everyone’s favorite sourpuss has filed for cloture on the USA Freedom Act. The Sen. Patrick Leahy-crafted measure was the consensus pick of lawmakers interested in reforming the National Security Agency’s bulk data collection. It has a host of interesting co-sponsors that range from “Republican Sen. Ted Cruz to liberal Sens. Edward Markey and Chuck Schumer.” I’d give anything if Reid would introduce and debate this plea for an end to overzealous eavesdropping on Americans with a giant tin horn attached to his old-man ear.
The bill is a reworked version of a similar bill that passed the House in May, though that version was accused of being “watered down” by privacy advocates and the tech industry during 11th hour negotiations.
Leahy spent months working to build consensus around his bill, and he nearly achieved it before debuting the measure in late July. It still faces opposition from some defense hawks, including Senate Intelligence Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein. And two of the loudest critics of NSA spying, Sens. Ron Wyden and Mark Udall, have criticized the measure for not going far enough. The two Democrats said they wanted to strengthen the bill to require warrants for “backdoor” searches of Americans’ Internet data that can be incidentally collected during foreign surveillance hauls.
NSA critics have been waiting the entire year to see Congress come to an agreement on how to curtail the government’s mass surveillance activities. In January, President Obama pledged in a major policy speech to reform the NSA, but said he could only do so when Congress sent him a bill that closely matched his recommended changes.
Leahy has insisted for weeks that the Senate take up his bill early in the lame-duck. “The American people are wondering whether Congress can get anything done,” Leahy said Wednesday night, after Reid (D-Nev.) filed for cloture. “The answer is yes. Congress can and should take up and pass the bipartisan USA Freedom Act, without delay.”
I’m broadly in favor of an effort to reign in what NSA has been doing. I don’t care that they’re not listening to phone call content. Trawling giant amounts of metadata is enough to infringe on people’s rights, and it should be restricted. The barriers put in place in the original PATRIOT Act, up for renewal in June, clearly didn’t do enough to limit such abuses and the FISA courts all too often ended up rubber-stamping NSA’s expeditions. Frankly, I have to do more research on this version of this bill, but a cosponsor like Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) speaks well of it, and there’s not as much of an argument about movement on something like this in a lame duck given that it’s a reigning in of government, not an expansion of its authority.
This’ll be an interesting bout in the returning Congress. Here’s the supportive (though not sycophantically) Electronic Freedom Foundation’s run-down on the specifics of this bill.