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Bills Introduced to Rein In Govt. Blanket Surveillance

The USA FREEDOM Act was introduced in both Houses of Congress Tuesday.
The bill would address
surveillance abuses, described by bill cosponsor and Senate Judiciary
Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) as providing "reasonable limits on the
surveillance powers we give to the government." 
The bill was cosponsored by chair of the House
Terrorism Subcommittee Sen. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.)--cosponsor of
the PATRIOT ACT--who said the bill would "rein in the dragnet collection
of data by the National Security Agency and others,
boost transparency of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance (FISA)
Court and provide more transparency about FISA requests. 

The bill would end bulk and blanket collection of
communications records, instead limiting them to documents relevant to a
specific investigation.

"These are all commonsense, bipartisan improvements that will ensure appropriate limits are placed on the government's vast surveillance powers," Leahy said.

The bill was also introduced in the House by more than
70 members--from both parties, as was the case with the Senate
bill--including House Communications subcommittee ranking member Anna
Eshoo (D-Calif.).

"The NSA took advantage of the laws Congress wrote
to spy on Americans, and it's imperative to correct them," Eshoo said in
a statement. "This legislation ensures that surveillance of Americans
ceases and puts in place safeguards to prevent
this from happening again. The critical balance between national
security and the constitutional rights of the American people must
always be honored."

Eshoo pointed to some of the FISA court-related
reforms. Currently, only the government can present evidence to FISA
court in seeking to access records. The result, she says, is that 99.7%
of government surveillance requests over the last
three decades have been approved. The bill would create a public
advocate, a sort of public defender for the public interest.

The bill would also: "require the court to publish
declassified summaries of all its major decisions and interpretations of
the law; "allow Internet companies to disclose estimates of the number
of FISC orders they receive each year, and
how many users are impacted."

The bills drew applause from the ACLU, Free Press, computer companies and others.

"Although the USA FREEDOM Act does not fix every
problem with the government's surveillance authorities and programs, it
is an important first step and it deserves broad support," blogged ACLU
legislative council Michelle Richardson.

The Computer and Communications Industry
Association said the bills were a step toward needed reforms.

“Due to
the stifling secrecy that has shrouded these programs for too long, the
public and even some Congressional leaders, currently
lack sufficient information to precisely define the contours and
boundaries that are necessary in this area," said CCIA President Ed
Black. "We hope the upcoming legislative process will fill this void and
provide the insights to undertake the major reforms
that are now clearly necessary.  I commend the Leahy/Sensenbrenner
legislation for this beginning. It is vital to reform and properly focus
our current surveillance system.”