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Senator Mark Udall (D. CO) and his colleagues have introduced a new NSA reform package to combat the program's domestic surveillance activities:

Four senators at the vanguard of bipartisan efforts to rein in US government spying programs announced the most comprehensive package of surveillance reforms so far presented on Capitol Hill on Wednesday.

The draft bill represented the first sign that key Republican and Democratic figures in the Senate are beginning to coalesce around a raft of proposals to roll back the powers of the National Security Agency in the wake of top-secret disclosures made by whistleblower Edward Snowden.

"The disclosures over the last 100 days have caused a sea change in the way the public views the surveillance system," said Democratic senator Ron Wyden, unveiling the bill at a press conference alongside Republican Rand Paul.

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

Wyden said the bill would set a high bar for "not cosmetic" intelligence reform, on the eve of a series of congressional hearings into the NSA's surveillance powers that will begin on Thursday.

The two other senators supporting the bill were Democrats Mark Udall, a long-time ally of Wyden, and Richard Blumenthal, who has been at the forefront of efforts to reform the secretive court process that grants surveillance warrants. - 9/25/13

Here's a little more info about their legislation:

Here are the essentials of Ron Wyden, Mark Udall, Richard Blumenthal and Rand Paul’s reform proposal:

End bulk collection–all of it. Specifically, it would forbid the NSA from indiscriminately sweeping up phone and Internet data under section 215 of the Patriot Act. Wyden, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, has long argued that the dragnet does not actually prevent any attacks. Instead, the NSA would need a warrant to target suspects.

Create a public advocate on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), the secret military court that approves NSA spying requests. Currently, the FISC has only rejected 0.03 percent of all requests, so it seems like privacy should have representation in the courtroom.

Make Suing the NSA Possible. Last February, the Supreme Court declared that the ACLU couldn’t sue the NSA since they couldn’t prove damages. Unfortunately, since the NSA is so secretive, it’s kinda hard to prove who gets harmed. The new law would allow Senator Rand Paul to live out his libertarian dream of suing the federal government. Details are still scant; I’ve reached out to Wyden’s office for specifics on this provision.

This package has a decent shot at passing. While a bill to completely cut funding for the NSA’s dragnet program narrowly failed last July, a key Republican, Darrell Issa, came out in favor cutting off the NSA this month. So, there’s momentum to stop bulk collection of data, along with the other provisions. - Tech Crunch, 9/26/13

Their bill is known as the Intelligence Oversight and Surveillance Reform Act.  Intelligence officials attended a public hearing in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee, which Udall and Wyden are members, to the program's activities:

U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) speaks about START Treaty on Capitol Hill in Washington, December 15, 2010. The two binders on the lectern are a collection of some 900 questions the Obama administration has answered from various senators on START Treaty.  REUTERS/Hyungwon Kang  (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS) - RTXVRKX
General Keith Alexander, the director of the National Security Agency, conceded that disclosures by the whistleblower Edward Snowden "will change how we operate". But he urged senators, who are weighing a raft of reforms, to preserve the foundational attributes of a program that allows officials to collect the phone data of millions of American citizens.

In testy exchanges at the Senate intelligence committee, Alexander and the director of national intelligence, James Clapper, refused to say on the record where the NSA had ever sought to trawl cell site data, which pinpoints the location of individuals via their phones.

They were challenged by Democratic senator Ron Wyden who, as a member of the committee, has for years been privy to classified briefings that he cannot discuss in public. "You talk about the damage that has been done by disclosures, but any government official who thought this would never be disclosed was ignoring history. The truth always manages to come out," he said.

"The NSA leadership built an intelligence data collection system that repeatedly deceived the American people. Time and time again the American people were told one thing in a public forum, while intelligence agencies did something else in private."

Wyden and his fellow Democrat Mark Udall used the public hearing to press the intelligence chiefs on aspects of the top-secret surveillance infrastructure.

Asked by Udall whether it was the NSA's aim to collect the records of all Americans, Alexander replied: "I believe it is in the nation's best interest to put all the phone records into a lockbox – yes."

He would not be drawn on any past attempts or plans to store cell site data for security reasons. The NSA director evaded repeated questions from Wyden over whether the NSA had either collection of cell site phone data, or planned to do so. Alexander eventually replied: "What I don't want to do senator is put out in an unclassified form anything that is classified."

Alexander and Clapper also strongly criticised the media for over its publication of Snowden's disclosures, which they suggested had been misleading. Neither of the intelligence chiefs, nor any of the senators who criticised media reporting, indicated which news organisations or particular reports were misleading, or in what way.

Alexander said that while recent disclosures were likely to impact public perceptions of the NSA and "change how we operate", any diminution of the intelligence community's capabilities risked terrorist attacks on US territory.

He told the committee that over one seven-day period this month, 972 people had been killed in terrorist attacks in Kenya, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen and Iraq. "We need these programs to ensure we don't have those same statistics here," he said.

Alexander said that violations of the rules governing surveillance powers were not common and "with very rare exceptions, are unintentional". Clapper also admitted to violations, saying "on occasion, we've made mistakes, some quite significant", but stressed those were inadvertent and the result of human or technical errors.

In a joint written submission with James Cole, the deputy attorney general, who also gave evidence to the committee, they said they were "open to a number of ideas that have been proposed in various forms" relating to the routine trawl of millions phone records of Americans under section 215 of the Patriot Act.

The trio said they would consider statutory restrictions on their ability to query the data they gather and disclosing publicly how often they use the system. However, there was no suggestion in the written submission that they would contemplate any infringement on the bulk collection and storage of the phone records, a proposal contained in bills being put forward in the House of Representatives and Senate. - The Guardian, 9/26/13

Udall's fellow committee member, Senator Mark Warner (D. VA), had this to say in regards to "lockbox":

Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) reminded Alexander of Americans' distrust in the NSA since Edward Snowden disclosed documents on previously secret U.S. internet and phone surveillance programs in June.

"A lot of Americans have lost trust in what you're doing," Warner said. - Huffington Post, 9/26/13

The Obama Administration wants to make some changes to the Senators' bill:

The White House is believed to be seeking more superficial changes, perhaps implementing tweaks to the secretive court process which oversees surveillance warrants and agreeing to greater transparency, but resisting concrete diminution in the powers currently bestowed upon the NSA and other intelligence agencies by the Patriot Act and the Fisa Amendment Act.

The administration has the support of the Democratic senator Dianne Feinstein, who chairs the intelligence committee and who has said she opposes ending the program for mass collection of phone records, even though, according to critics, the US intelligence establishment has failed to show where it has proved critical in terrorism investigations.

Wyden and Udall have been thorns in the side of the intelligence community, using their position on the committee, which permits them privileged access to classified briefings, to repeatedly challenge senior officials on the accuracy of their public testimony.

Patrick Leahy, the chair of the Senate judiciary committee, is pushing his own legislation, which looks likely to be less far-reaching than the bipartisan bill submitted on Wednesday night, but which would also prevent the NSA and partner agencies from collecting millions of phone records of Americans, irrespective of whether they are suspected of involvement in terrorism. - The Guardian, 9/26/13

Momentum for reforming the NSA program and the FISA Court has grown greatly:

A man stands in the middle of Grand Central Terminal as he speaks on a cell phone, as passengers face limited train service on the New Haven Line between Stamford Station and Grand Central Terminal due to a Con Edison power problem in New York, September
Wyden said the programs and revelations have undercut U.S. businesses required to provide data to the intelligence community while infuriating foreign leaders. Earlier this week, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff accused the United States of violating her country's sovereignty by sweeping up data from billions of telephone calls and emails that have passed through Brazil, including her own.

In protest, Rousseff scuttled a scheduled state visit to the United States.

"This is not a small hiccup," Wyden told reporters at a Capitol Hill news conference.
Efforts to rein in the once-secret surveillance programs have attracted an unusual coalition of liberal Democrats and libertarian Republicans, pitting them against House and Senate leaders who have expressed strong support for the NSA programs. - AP, 9/26/13

Wyden is optimistic that their legislation can pass in the House and Senate:

“If you had told me months ago someone would come up to me in a barbershop and asked me about the FISA court, I would have said ‘yeah right,’” said Wyden, explaining why he thinks the reforms have popular support. “It was a real lonely cause here, six, seven years ago…I think we’ve got exceptional momentum now.”

“We need to end the NSA’s collection of millions of innocent Americans’ private phone records and focus on the real problem: terrorists and spies,” said Udall. “Americans with no links to terrorists or espionage should not have to worry that the NSA is vaccuuming up their private information.” - MSNBC, 9/25/13

Udall and Wyden are also calling for swift action on their bill:»+US+%26+World)

The lawmakers emphasized that the time has come for this kind of reform. "The balance between Americans' privacy and security is fundamentally out of whack," Udall said in a press release. "These aren't vague or abstract threats to our liberty. These kinds of things are happening right now as we speak."

"The overbroad surveillance activities that have come to light over the last few months have shown how wide the gap between upholding the constitutional liberties of American citizens and protecting national security has become," Wyden said.

It's hard to know whether the bill has any chance of passing at this point. But at the end of July, an amendment to defund the NSA's bulk collection of phone records was narrowly defeated in the House. The defeat was seen as a victory for anti-surveillance activists, who claimed it was proof that a big part of Congress wants to reign in NSA surveillance and limit its powers. - Mashable, 9/26/13

If you would like more information on the Intelligence Oversight and Surveillance Reform Act, please contact the following Senators offices:

Udall: (202) 224-5941

Wyden: (202) 224-5244

Blumenthal: (202) 224-2823

Paul: (202) 224-4343

And if you would like to thank Udall, who is up for re-election next year, for his continued work to defend our civil liberties, please do donate to his re-election campaign:

Originally posted to pdc on Fri Sep 27, 2013 at 06:00 AM PDT.

Also republished by Colorado COmmunity and The Democratic Wing of the Democratic Party.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Good deal! (3+ / 0-)

    Someone has to rein this in. Glad to see Blumenthal doing good work (I hea me doots about my senior Senator).
    Very odd to see that the Republican that makes this bi-partisan is Wackadoodle Paul, but as long as we're marching in the same direction.....

    If I ran this circus, things would be DIFFERENT!

    by CwV on Fri Sep 27, 2013 at 06:15:42 AM PDT

    •  That's politics (5+ / 0-)

      You have to take your allies where you find them.  Libertarian Republicans will only oppose NSA abuses when we have a Democratic president, so we have to push this now, while their reflexive Obama opposition acts in our favor.  The administration is on the wrong side here, and Republicans who oppose him on NSA practices are our friends, on this issue.

      We have always been at war with al Qaeda.

      by Dallasdoc on Fri Sep 27, 2013 at 06:24:22 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Here's hoping they pull Leahy to their side (5+ / 0-)

    If Patrick Leahy would support this bill it might have a chance.  Two potential significant problems:

    1.  The "public advocate" provision will have to be very strong to ensure independent outside voices in the FISA court.  Otherwise we're sure to get some protege of Cass Sunstein, who'll be about as effective as the SEC.

    2.  Unless the enormous data collection center in Utah, and other similar efforts are defunded in the budget, I'm not at all confident of any legislation to stop these practices.  Ideally, defunding should be accompanied by criminal penalties for any government agent who supplies funds in contravention of Congress' will, by any other means.  I still wonder why James Clapper isn't lawyered up for lying to Congress.

    Whatever the administration and DiFi want at this point should be laughed off the Hill.

    We have always been at war with al Qaeda.

    by Dallasdoc on Fri Sep 27, 2013 at 06:21:59 AM PDT

    •  Sell Off The Utah Equipment... (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Dallasdoc, bronte17, RiveroftheWest

      ...with a provision that the proceeds go directly to tax cuts -- not fiscally significant, but a poison pill for any of the establishment-faction Republicans who might vote no.

      On the Internet, nobody knows if you're a dog... but everybody knows if you're a jackass.

      by stevemb on Fri Sep 27, 2013 at 06:28:07 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Leahy seems to be a paper tiger anymore (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Dallasdoc, nookular, RiveroftheWest

      Over the last 10 to 15 yrs I have watched as Leahy has talked a great game but he hasn't been following any of it up the way he used to. Both he and Harry Reid have lost more than one step in the last couple terms not to mention more than a few questionable votes.

      "the government's role should be to uplift, enlighten, educate and ennoble the citizen, not oppress them with taxation and intrusive laws," Gatewood Galbraith, Historic Marijuana Advocate, aka "The Last Free Man In America," RIP 1-3-12

      by SmileySam on Fri Sep 27, 2013 at 06:33:22 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  smile... for Gatewood's memory (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Dallasdoc, RiveroftheWest

        He was all over the map politically in his last years... or so it seemed to me.

        But, he stayed true to his core convictions. RIP Gatewood.

        One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious. --Carl Jung

        by bronte17 on Fri Sep 27, 2013 at 07:09:56 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

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