US legislators introduce bill to end dragnet phone data collection

US Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy and Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner, chairman of the Crime and Terrorism Subcommittee in the House, introduced on Tuesday a 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.

“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,” said. Sensenbrenner, who was the main sponsor of the PATRIOT act.

“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 (summary) is an essential first step.””

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 bill has 16 cosponsors in the Senate and more than 70 bipartisan cosponsors in the House and enjoys the diverse support of groups ranging from the National Rifle Association to the American Civil Liberties Union.

“We hope other lawmakers will join us in our legislative efforts to ensure that such abuses are never repeated and that no false trade-off between freedom and security is allowed to be decided secretly, behind closed doors, ever again,” the two lawmakers commented for Politico.

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