After passing through the Senate's Intelligence Committee, the so-called "FISA Improvements Act" is poised to actually do the complete opposite of what its title implies. Instead of being an improvement to the bill that allows the NSA to spy on American citizens, the bill advocates the very unacceptable practices that threaten the privacy rights of American. Even worse, it weakens one of the few effective and powerful checks to the abuse of such programs, diminishing the accountability of government to their people.
Sponsored by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the bill aims to effectively legitimize the controversial data-collection programs used by the NSA. Seen as completely unconstitutional by many, those data-collection programs collect records of online data — both domestic and foreign. Feinstein herself claims the complete opposite, saying that the bill would prohibit mass data collection, but the Electronic Frontier Foundation says otherwise, stating the bill is "designed to bolster some of the worst NSA surveillance programs and grant new authority to the NSA to engage in surveillance."
Indeed, after reading a little of the bill myself, it became clear that while the bill doesn't allow the content of communications may not be collected (which was supposedly the case before), it still allows the NSA to continue collecting the related metadata, which was the very reason why the programs were controversial in the first place.
The bill also serves as a response to the recent leaks of NSA info by Edward Snowden. The bill pushes for "criminal penalties of up to 10 years in prison for intentional unauthorized access to data acquired under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA)." While it is understandable to wish to preserve some secret information, punishing leaks will greatly reduce transparency in government, threaten journalism, and make officials less accountable to the public, all of which are unreasonable in a free society.
Indeed, instead of surveillance agencies more accountable to the public, the bill would make these groups accountable to the Senate Intelligence Committee. However, this isn't much of an assurance considering that these programs are largely carried out by private contractors that are also major contributors to the campaigns of senators on the committee. For example, Feinstein has received large sums of money from General Dynamics, General Atomics, BAE Systems, Honeywell International, Raytheon, and Northop Grumman. Vice Chair Saxby Chambliss also has received a massive amount of donations from security contractors. It's possible members of the Intelligence Committee will promote government surveillance programs in order to remain in the good graces of the contractors that fund their campaigns.
To recap: the FISA Improvements Act enables the NSA to continue spying on Americans and foreign allies, encourages greater opacity, and grants oversight to a committee that has a vested interest in supporting the groups that make profits off of the unconstitutional infringements of your rights. It's outrageous for anyone to consider the FISA Improvements Act as an actual improvement of American privacy rights, because the only "improvement" in the bill is for Feinstein's donors. If you oppose the NSA's blatant violations of your privacy, take the issue to your senator and get him or her to support a bill that weakens the government's authority to invade your privacy, like the USA Freedom Act.