Within hours of U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy’s introduction of the USA Freedom Act of 2014 on Tuesday, July 29, 2014, Emily Sheketoff, Executive Director of the American Library Association’s Washington Office, stated on behalf of the A.L.A., "Libraries and librarians are and have been on the frontlines of the fight to preserve the Fourth Amendment and foster government transparency in a post 9/11 world. The new USA Freedom Act introduced today by Sen. Leahy and others, if passed, would finally allow judges to assess all “gag orders” that accompany every so-called National Security Letter, empower new Special Advocates to meaningfully champion civil liberties in FISA Court proceedings upon judicial request and, once and for all, end the dragnet collection of US citizens’ telephone records under the Patriot Act.”
While more to protect privacy still needs to be done, as Sen. Leahy has said, the USA Freedom Act of 2014 deserves to be passed quickly by Congress and signed by the President without delay; thirteen years to begin to restore Americans’ privacy is long enough.
On Tuesday, July 29, 2013, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (Democrat, Vermont) and Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner (Republican, Wisconsin), Chairman of the Crime and Terrorism Subcommittee in the House, introduced the USA FREEDOM Act (Uniting and Strengthening America by Fulfilling Rights and Ending Eavesdropping, Dragnet-Collection and Online Monitoring) Act. Sen. Leahy’s office described it as “legislation that seeks to restore Americans’ privacy rights by ending the government’s dragnet collection of phone records and requiring greater oversight, transparency, and accountability with respect to domestic surveillance authorities.”
The USA FREEDOM Act would end the dragnet collection of Americans’ phone records under Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act and ensure that other authorities cannot be used to justify similar dragnet collection. The bill also provides more safeguards for warrantless surveillance under the FISA Amendments Act.
The bill includes other significant privacy and oversight provisions, provides for the creation of a Special Advocate to focus on the protection of privacy rights and civil liberties before the FISA Court, and requires more detailed public reporting about the numbers and types of FISA orders that are issued.
“The government surveillance programs conducted under the Foreign Surveillance Intelligence Act are far broader than the American people previously understood. It is time for serious and meaningful reforms so we can restore confidence in our intelligence community,” Leahy said. “Modest transparency and oversight provisions are not enough. We need real reform, which is why I join today with Congressman Sensenbrenner, and bipartisan coalitions in both the Senate and House, to introduce the USA FREEDOM Act.”
“Following 9/11, the USA PATRIOT Act passed the judiciary committees with overwhelming bipartisan support. The bill has helped keep Americans safe by ensuring information is shared among those responsible for defending our country and by enhancing the tools the intelligence community needs to identify and track terrorists,” Sensenbrenner said. “But somewhere along the way, the balance between security and privacy was lost. It’s now time for the judiciary committees to again come together in a bipartisan fashion to ensure the law is properly interpreted, past abuses are not repeated and American liberties are protected. Washington must regain Americans’ trust in their government. The USA FREEDOM Act is an essential first step. I would like to thank Congressmen Conyers and Amash, Congresswoman Lofgren, Chairman Issa and others for working with us to draft this important legislation and encourage all my colleagues to support it.”
In a POLITICO editorial, Leahy and Sensenbrenner stated, “In the days and weeks following Sept. 11, 2001, we were the primary authors of the USA PATRIOT Act — legislation that responded to those attacks by enhancing the government’s ability to gather information to prevent terrorism. Some checks and balances that were proposed then were included in the final bill; others were not. The PATRIOT Act has been much debated these past 12 years, and we have not always been on the same side of those debates. But whatever our differences may have been in the past, we strongly agree that the dragnet collection of millions of Americans’ phone records every day — whether they have any connection at all to terrorism — goes far beyond what Congress envisioned or intended to authorize. More important, we agree it must stop.”
Over the past five months, we have seen a slow trickle of additional disclosures that have only added to our concerns. Since the revelation that the National Security Agency is collecting the details of Americans’ phone calls on an unprecedented scale, it has come out that the government searches the content of huge troves of emails, collects in bulk the address books from email accounts and social networking sites, at least temporarily collected geolocation data from our cellphones, committed thousands of privacy violations and made substantial misrepresentations to courts and Congress.
In an outline of the proposed legislation Leahy’s office posted online, they stated, “The USA FREEDOM Act ends bulk collection under Section 215 of the Patriot Act, in light of the massive intrusion on Americans’ privacy and the lack of evidence of its effectiveness. The bill requires that the tangible things sought are relevant and material to an authorized investigation into international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities, and pertain to: (1) a foreign power or agent of a foreign power; (2) the activities of a suspected agent of a foreign power who is the subject of an investigation; or (3) an individual in contact with, or known to, a suspected agent of a foreign power.”
The bill had sixteen co-sponsors in the Senate, including Senators Mike Lee (R-Utah), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Dean Heller (R-Nev.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Mark Begich (D-Alaska), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Mark Udall (D-Colo.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), and Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii). The measure also had over seventy bipartisan cosponsors in the House of Representatives.
It also had the support of groups ranging from the National Rifle Association to the American Civil Liberties Union (A.C.L.U.). A complete list of supporters as of July 31st can be found online here.
After the House voted to pass the bill, Leahy stated on Thursday, May 22, 2014, “I applaud the House of Representatives for taking an important step towards reforming our nation’s surveillance authorities. For years, several of us in Congress have been attempting to have an open and thoughtful debate about both the sweep and implications of these programs. The House’s strong vote represents progress that few could have predicted less than a year ago.
Today’s action in the House continues the bipartisan effort to restore Americans’ civil liberties. But I was disappointed that the legislation passed today does not include some of the meaningful reforms contained in the original USA FREEDOM Act. I will continue to push for these important reforms when the Senate Judiciary Committee considers the USA FREEDOM Act next month.
When Leahy introduced the revised legislation, USA FREEDOM Act of 2014, on Thursday, July 29, 2014, his office stated, “The updated version of the USA FREEDOM Act released today builds on legislation passed in the House in May, as well as the original legislation Leahy introduced with Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) last October. The legislation bans bulk collection under Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act and other surveillance authorities, requires the government to narrow the scope of a search to a clearly defined “‘specific selection term,’” adds needed transparency and reporting requirements, and provides key reforms to the FISA Court. In an editorial on Monday, the New York Times wrote “‘the bill represents a breakthrough in the struggle against the growth of government surveillance power.’”
“If enacted, this bill would represent the most significant reform of government surveillance authorities since Congress passed the USA PATRIOT Act 13 years ago,” Leahy said in a floor statement. “This is an historic opportunity, and I am grateful that the bill has the support of the administration, a wide range of privacy and civil liberties groups, and the technology industry.”
Leahy’s office stated, “Over the last year, the Judiciary Committee under Leahy’s leadership has held six public hearings on the issue of government surveillance. Also during that time, Leahy has worked with the Intelligence Community and a wide range of stakeholders to craft legislation that could garner a broad range of support. The USA FREEDOM Act of 2014 released today is cosponsored by Senators Mike Lee (R-Utah), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Dean Heller (R-Nev.), Al Franken (D-Minn.), Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.).”
In an open letter to Majority Leader Harry Reid, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, and others, dated July 30, 2014, a coalition of groups wrote in support of the new bill. They wrote, in part, “The undersigned civil liberties, human rights, and other public interest organizations write in support of the USA FREEDOM Act (S. 2685), which Senator Leahy reintroduced on July 29. We urge both the Senate and the House to pass it swiftly and without any dilution of its protections.” The letter was from Access, Advocacy for Principled Action in Government, American Association of Law Libraries, A.C.L.U., A.L.A., Antiwar.com, Arab American Institute, Association of Academic Health Sciences Libraries, Association of Research Libraries, Bill of Rights Defense Committee, Brennan Center for Justice, Campaign for Digital Fourth Amendment Rights, Center for Democracy & Technology, Center for Media and Democracy/The Progressive, Charity & Security Network, Citizen Outreach, Competitive Enterprise Institute, Constitution Alliance, The Constitution Project4, Council on American-Islamic Relations, Cyber Privacy Project, Defending Dissent Foundation, DownsizeDC.org, Inc., Electronic Frontier Foundation, Free Press Action Fund, Freedom of the Press Foundation, FreedomWorks, GenOpp, Government Accountability Project, Human Rights Watch, Liberty Coalition, Media Alliance, Medical Library Association, National Coalition Against Censorship, National Security Counselors, New America’s Open Technology Institute, OpenMedia.org, OpenTheGovernment.org, PEN American Center, Public Knowledge, Republican Liberty Caucus, R Street, Rutherford Institute, and TechFreedom.
“This is a debate about Americans’ fundamental relationship with their government – about whether our government should have the power to create massive databases of information about its citizens. We need to get this right, and we need to get it done without further delay,” Leahy stated today, Thursday, July 31, 2014. “I am glad to be joined by a broad coalition of supporters who are committed, as I am, to enacting meaningful reforms this year.”