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Comments on Sen. Leahy and Rep. Sensenbrenner Introduction of Bill to Curb NSA Abuses

WASHINGTON - Today, Sen. Patrick Leahy and Rep. James Sensenbrenner introduced (in their respective chambers) the USA FREEDOM Act, a bipartisan bill designed to rein in many of the NSA’s most controversial surveillance practices. Elizabeth Goitein and Faiza Patel, co-directors of the Brennan Center for Justice’s Liberty and National Security Program, are available for your analysis and coverage of this story.

The bill, which the Brennan Center has endorsed, would significantly narrow surveillance authorities in a range of areas. It aims to end the bulk collection of Americans’ phone records – and to close the so-called “back door” by which the NSA searches the international communications of foreign targets, acquired without a warrant, for information about Americans. It also includes reforms to enhance transparency and oversight, such as establishing a special advocate to promote Americans’ privacy interests before the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) and creating a process for FISC judges to direct the public release of the court’s opinions.
The introduction of the USA FREEDOM Act sets the stage for a showdown with another bill that is likely to emerge from the congressional intelligence committees. That bill is expected to enshrine many of the surveillance policies that the Leahy-Sensenbrenner bill seeks to reform.
“This bill would go a long way toward restoring the presumption of privacy for the communications and personal information of law-abiding Americans,” said Goitein. “The NSA and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court have secretly interpreted the law to allow the broad collection of Americans’ information, even where the law expressly prohibits the targeting of Americans or requires a showing of relevance to an international terrorism investigation. The bill is designed to put an end to this perversion of the law.”  
“This bill is a sensible middle ground between the need to gather intelligence on those who intend our country harm, while respecting the constitutional right of all Americans to keep their personal lives private,” said Patel. “Despite the claims of the NSA, the Patriot Act was never intended to authorize the bulk collection of Americans’ phone records. Leahy and Sensenbrenner have set the record straight.”
Goitein, an expert on government secrecy and surveillance policies, has written about the NSA’s recently disclosed activities in the Wall Street JournalTime, the Christian Science Monitor, and the Boston Review; has appeared to discuss the NSA on Andrea Mitchell ReportsAll in with Chris Hayes, the Rachel Maddow Show, and The Shepard Smith Show; and has been quoted on this subject in the Washington PostUSA Today, the New York Daily News, the GuardianReutersMcClatchy, and Bloomberg, among other outlets.

Faiza Patel, a national security contributor for Al Jazeera America, has written about surveillance in the New York Times (on multiple occasions), the GuardianSalonmsnbc.comDefense One, and The Huffington Post, has appeared to discuss the NSA on Al JazeeraCurrent TVWall Street Journal Live, and has been quoted on this subject in the New York Times, the Boston Globe and the Christian Science Monitor, among others.


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The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law is a non-partisan public policy and law institute that focuses on fundamental issues of democracy and justice. Our work ranges from voting rights to redistricting reform, from access to the courts to presidential power in the fight against terrorism.

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