Spying by the NSA has cost the United States economically and angered allies, a bipartisan group of senators said Wednesday in unveiling legislation that would end the collection of millions of Americans’ phone records and data on Internet usage.
Oregon’s Ron Wyden, Mark Udall of Colorado and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut — and Republican Rand Paul of Kentucky outlined their legislation to end longstanding NSA surveillance practices and open up some of the actions of the secret federal court that reviews government surveillance requests.
The lawmakers say their bill s the appropriate response to disclosures this past summer about the sweeping surveillance programs — one that gathers U.S. phone records and another that is designed to track the use of U.S.-based Internet servers by foreigners with possible links to terrorism.
“This is not a small hiccup,” Wyden told reporters at a Capitol Hill news conference.
This group unveiled the bill on the eve of a Senate hearing with the nation’s top intelligence officials, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and Army Gen. Keith Alexander, the director of the NSA, in hopes of jump-starting the debate over the programs.
“Americans with no link to terrorism or espionage should not have to worry that the NSA is vacuuming up their private information,” Udall said.
Current law would be changed under the bill, to prohibit the bulk collect of Americans’ phone records and their communications data. The government could still obtain records of anyone suspected of terrorism or espionage and of an individual in contact with a suspected terrorist or spy.
The bill also would establish an independent, constitutional advocate to argue against the government in the secret Foreign Surveillance Intelligence Court and require the attorney general to declassify court opinions that address significant interpretations of the Constitution or current law.
Obama has said he might be open to setting up public advocates who could oppose government lawyers at Foreign Surveillance Intelligence Court proceedings. But the administration continues to argue that the NSA programs are crucial tools in combatting terrorism.
Prospects for the legislation in the remaining months of the year are unclear as leaders of the congressional intelligence committees are strong defenders of the programs. But the disclosures from documents leaked by Edward Snowden, a 29-year-old former systems analyst on contract to the NSA, have stirred concerns among Americans that their civil liberties are being violated.