End the NSA dragnet now

Congress has a crucial opportunity to reassert constitutionally guaranteed liberties by reforming the N.S.A.’s overbroad collection of Americans’ personal data. But the Intelligence Committee bill squanders this chance. It would enable some of the most constitutionally questionable surveillance activities now exposed to the public eye. The Senate should be reining in these programs, not giving them a stamp of approval.

As members of the Intelligence Committee, we strongly disagree with this approach. We had already proposed our own, bipartisan surveillance reform legislation, the Intelligence Oversight and Surveillance Reform Act, which we have sponsored with a number of other senators. Our bill would prohibit the government from conducting warrantless “backdoor searches” of Americans’ communications — including emails, text messages and Internet use — under Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. It would also create a “constitutional advocate” to present an opposing view when the F.I.S.C. is considering major questions of law or constitutional interpretation.

Rather than adopt our legislation, the Intelligence Committee chose to codify excessively broad domestic surveillance authorities. So we offered amendments: One would end the bulk collection of Americans’ records, but still allow intelligence agencies to obtain information they legitimately needed for national security purposes by getting the approval of a judge, which could even be done after the fact in emergency situations. Another of our amendments sought to prevent the N.S.A. from collecting Americans’ cellphone location information in bulk — a capability that potentially turns the cellphone of every man, woman and child in America into a tracking device.