A bipartisan group of a dozen U.S. senators introduced on Tuesday legislation that would require the National Security Agency to obtain a warrant for queries of data on Americans under an internet surveillance program.
The effort, led by Democrat Ron Wyden and Republican Rand Paul, would reform other aspects of the warrantless program. The bill is likely to complicate congressional renewal of a portion of a spying law due to expire on Dec. 31.
U.S. intelligence officials value Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act as a vital tool for fighting national and cyber security threats and helping to protect American allies.
It allows U.S. intelligence agencies to eavesdrop on and store vast amounts of digital communications from foreign suspects living outside the United States.
The surveillance program, classified details of which were exposed in 2013 by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, also incidentally scoops up communications of Americans, including if they communicate with a foreign target living overseas.
Those communications can then be subject to searches without a warrant, including by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The USA Rights Act authored by Wyden and Paul would end that practice.
The measure was introduced with support from a wide berth of more than 40 civil society groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union and FreedomWorks. A companion bill was also introduced in the House of Representatives.
It would renew Section 702 for four years with additional transparency and oversight provisions, such as allowing individuals to more easily raise legal challenges against the law and expand the oversight jurisdiction of the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, a government privacy watchdog.
Earlier this month, a bipartisan group in the House of Representatives introduced legislation to add privacy protections to Section 702, including partially restricting the FBI’s ability to access U.S. data when investigating a crime. Privacy groups criticized that plan as too narrow.
Separately, the Senate Intelligence Committee was expected to vote on Tuesday on a bill to reauthorize Section 702. A private vote was scheduled, which is often the practice on intelligence legislation. Privacy advocates complained that bill would not reform the process, and Wyden sent a letter on Monday urging committee leaders to allow a public vote.
Wyden said the bill “will have enormous impact on the security, liberty, and constitutional rights of the American people” and should be debated in the open.
(Reporting by Dustin Volz; Editing by Leslie Adler and David Gregorio)