While the public is still captivated by the NSA surveillance controversies, six Senators have introduced or announced bills to address certain aspects of how U.S. intelligence agencies and institutions do their business. But with immigration taking center stage in the Senate this month, some are worried these bills won't make it in time to matter.
“Members of Congress and the press have a limited attention span,” said Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.). “I’m hoping we can take this for the historic and serious issue that it is and stay with it.”
1. Sens. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.)
Udall and Wyden's legislation would modify the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 by requiring a "demonstrated link to terrorism or espionage" to authorize data collection. Read the draft of the bill here.
"Although I strongly believe some authorities under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act provide valuable information that helps protect our national security, Americans with no link to terrorism or espionage should not have to worry that their private information is being swept up," Udall said in a statement. "This legislation strikes the right balance in protecting our homeland while also respecting our Constitution and Americans' widely cherished privacy rights."
Wyden said that it is "clear to the American people that the law is being interpreted in a way that damages their civil liberties and that the system has been set up to keep Americans unaware of the intrusion."
"When you combine this proposed bill with legislation introduced to declassify FISA court rulings, we are well on our way to better protecting those liberties and promoting an informed public debate," he added.
2. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)
On Thursday Sen. Sanders submitted a bill similar to the Udall-Wyden legalisation that went further, restricting the collection of data to those "known to" be suspected terrorists or spies. The bill would also open up reports of these investigations to all members of Congress, rather than just members of intelligence and judiciary committees. Read the bill here.
In a statement, Sen. Sanders said, “We must give our intelligence and law enforcement agencies all of the tools that they need to combat terrorism but we must do so in a way that protects our freedom and respects the Constitution’s ban on unreasonable searches.”
3. Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah)
The senators' bill, introduced Tuesday, would declassify some court rulings made by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that authorize data-mining programs. Read the bill here.
The bill came up as an amendment to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act last year but failed. Merkley says that the context has changed: “New information in the public record creates a dialogue with the public that we didn’t have before. Often that’s what creates a legislative moment.”
4. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.)
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who is already considering legal action against the government over the NSA controversy, introduced a bill that would prevent the government from seizing the phone records of Americans based on "probable cause" without a warrant.
He announced his bill, "The Fourth Amendment Restoration Act of 2013," in a statement Thursday.
"The revelation that the NSA has secretly seized the call records of millions of Americans, without probable cause, represents an outrageous abuse of power and a violation of the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution," Paul said. "The bill restores our Constitutional rights and declares that the Fourth Amendment shall not be construed to allow any agency of the United States government to search the phone records of Americans without a warrant based on probable cause."