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Leahy Introduces New Version of USA Freedom Act

Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) has introduced an updated version of the USA Freedom Act, a bill that would end the "dragnet" collection of phone records by government agencies and provide more transparency.

Leahy said the bill has the support of "the administration, a wide range of privacy and civil liberties groups, and the technology industry."

The House version of the bill got a tough reception in the Senate Intelligence Committee last month, but it has now been tweaked to address some of those privacy concerns, though that would mean the bill will need to be reconciled with the House version.

The House on May 22 passed its version of the bill, which was supported by the President. It would further restrict the data collected from communications companies by the NSA and other intelligence agencies, as well as boost transparency and reporting requirements for targeted data requests, require more specificity in those requests, and minimize retention and dissemination of nonpublic data.

Rather than have the government sweep and store the data, agencies would make specific requests for data the telecoms already store as part of their business. The House-passed bill has no mandated retention period, which some feared could be the law's undoing in the Senate.

The President announced his own modifications to the data collection regime last March following revelations related to the NSA leaks.

In the wake of revelations from NSA analyst/leaker Edward Snowden, the President last August promised greater oversight of info collection programs, better transparency about the legal underpinnings, and new constraints on the use of that authority.

"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," said Leahy's office. A summary of the revised bill is here, and full text here.

Leahy called the bill a historic opportunity but said more needs to be done beyond the bill to protect privacy.

A spokesperson for Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) said he was able to get included in the new bill surveillance transparency provisions from a separate bill he introduced with Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.).

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.