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Senators Push 'Real, Not Cosmetic' NSA Reform Bill

As similar attempt failed in House, senators face uphill battle

Jacob Chamberlain, staff writer

A draft bill announced by a bipartisan group of U.S. senators on Wednesday promises to establish real, "not cosmetic" reform at the National Security Agency, whose vast surveillance practices have gone largely unchecked.

The Intelligence Oversight and Surveillance Reform Act, drafted by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.), Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), proposes a range of reforms that would "end bulk collection of Americans' phone records, close a loophole that allows the NSA to conduct 'backdoor searches' of Americans' communications without a warrant, and create a 'constitutional advocate' to argue against the government before the secretive court that oversees foreign surveillance," as The Huffington Post summarized.

The ACLU said the bill, whose full text has not yet been released, was "the first shot in the fight for comprehensive intelligence reform."

The bill would also allow companies such as Yahoo and Google to release hitherto undisclosed information about what kind of user data the government has been requesting from them. Such companies have so far claimed that they are barred from releasing that information.

According to Wyden, who spoke during the unveiling of the bill at a press conference in D.C.,  the bill "expresses our bipartisan view of what Congress must do to enact real, not cosmetic, intelligence reform. The disclosures over the last hundred days have caused a sea change in the way the public views the surveillance system."

Mark Jaycox of the Electronic Frontier Foundation told the Huffington Post in an email that the bill's introduction Wednesday was a good step:

The Senators' move is yet another reassuring sign -- which ranges from public opinion to the Amash amendment -- that Congress will try to fix the NSA spying. Now it's time for the Senators' fellow members to get behind these reforms and make sure that the illegal and unconstitutional actions by the NSA end."

Congressional support for NSA reform has been limited, and a similar law proposed in the House, the Amash Amendment, failed last July.

Senate leaders such as chair of the Intelligence Committee Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) have expressed support for the NSA's practices and a reluctance to pursue true reform.

"We are introducing legislation that is the most comprehensive bipartisan intelligence reform proposal since the disclosures of last June," Wyden said.

"The significant reforms in this bill are especially important in light of recent declassified reports that show what Senator Wyden and I have known for years," said Udall.

And, Udall added, the NSA's unchecked powers have "led to the abuse of Americans' privacy and misleading statements made to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court -- and we've only seen the tip of the iceberg."


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