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Lawmakers Introduce Legislation to "Put a Stake in the Heart" of NSA's Domestic Phone Spying

"The NSA's sprawling phone records dragnet was born in secrecy, defended with lies, and never stopped a single terrorist attack," said Sen. Ron Wyden

NSA Spying

Fight for the Future campaigner Laila Abdelaz said the new legislation is "a welcome and necessary first-step in a longer fight to dismantle the U.S. government's sprawling surveillance state." (Image: EFF Photos/flickr/cc)

In a move welcomed by civil liberties advocates, a bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced legislation to end once and for all the National Security Agency's authority for mass surveillance of Americans' phone records.

"It's a welcome and necessary first-step in a longer fight to dismantle the U.S. government's sprawling surveillance state," said Fight for the Future campaigner Laila Abdelaziz.

Entitled the "Ending Mass Collection of Americans' Phone Records Act," the legislation was introduced Thursday in the Senate by Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.), while Reps. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) and Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) introduced a companion measure in the House.

"The NSA's sprawling phone records dragnet was born in secrecy, defended with lies, and never stopped a single terrorist attack," Wyden said in a statement.

"Even after Congress acted in 2015, the program collected over half a billion phone records in a single year. It's time, finally, to put a stake in the heart of this unnecessary government surveillance program and start to restore some of Americans' liberties," he said. 

"In particular," as Spencer Ackerman reported for The Daily Beast,

the bill would kill off what's called the Call Detail Records program under an effort to restrict the domestic phone-data dragnet in the wake of Edward Snowden’s surveillance revelations. Before the so-called USA FREEDOM Act became law in 2015, some civil libertarians warned that its privacy protections, watered down by intelligence officials and their allies, would prove inadequate. They turned out to be prescient: the FREEDOM Act led to an overcollection of call data so massive that the NSA announced last it was deleting the entire FREEDOM Act trove, which included some 685 million phone records.

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The failure of the USA FREEDOM Act was significant enough that the Trump administration "actually hasn't been using it for the past six months," a national-security aide to House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy told the Lawfare podcast earlier this month.

The Call Detail Records (CDR) program—which uses the authority of Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act—said Free Presss Action's Sandra Fulton, "represents an egregious violation of our rights and it must end."

"Even if the NSA has reportedly stopped using this dragnet approach now," she continued, "we need the certainty that this bill provides against it restarting on the basis of Section 215 or some other government theory."

Fight for the Future's Abdelaziz said her group hopes the measure "is the first-step in many others taken by this Congress to end the USA PATRIOT Act and restore key civil liberties required for a healthy democratic society."

The ACLU agreed that ending the phone spying "should be a no-brainer for Congress."

"But just ending that one authority isn't enough," the group added.

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