Republican Sen. Dean Heller, Nevada’s junior senator, is concerned with the expanded role of the National Security Agency and its eavesdropping of phone calls of worldwide leaders.
Heller conducted his first rural press conference Wednesday afternoon, but the first-term senator primarily directed his remarks to the NSA and how the agency is overreaching in its surveillance, both domestically and overseas.
“The pubic is outraged,” Heller said, referring to the calls and emails he has received regarding the latest allegations of spying.
Heller said he and Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., are co-sponsoring legislation to rein in the NSA.
“We believe there’s a violation of the Fourth Amendment and our civil rights,” said Heller, who added that he continually voted against the Patriot Act.
He said similar legislation to curtail the NSA is moving through the House of Representatives in a bill introduced by Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wisc.
The Obama Administration has come under fire because the NSA has been accused of listening into cellphone calls of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and also the leaders of Brazil and Mexico.
“As made clear by press reports worldwide, the federal government has established a practice of collecting enormous amounts of data with little to show for it,” Heller said. “Protecting Americans from the very real threat of international terrorism is one of our government’s greatest responsibilities, but it must be done in a way that respects the privacy of law-abiding citizens.”
Both Heller and Leahy said surveillance programs conducted under the Foreign Surveillance Intelligence Act are more widespread than originally thought.
“The government surveillance programs conducted under the Foreign Surveillance Intelligence Act are far broader than the American people previously understood. It is time for serious and meaningful reforms so we can restore confidence in our intelligence community,” said Leahy in joint media release sent before the rural press conference. “Modest transparency and oversight provisions are not enough. We need real reform, which is why I am happy to be joined today by Sen. Heller and 15 other senators from both parties in introducing the USA Freedom Act.”
Leahy is chairman of the Judiciary Committee and author of the legislation.
Under current law, Heller said the Federal Bureau of Investigation can request a warrant from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance or FISA Court that allows the NSA to collect millions of phone records. Heller said there is no requirement that these citizens be tied to any sort of investigation related to international terrorism or under any suspicion before their data is collected.
Heller added the USA Freedom Act puts a stop to the massive intrusion on Americans’ privacy by ending bulk data collection practices permitted under Section 215 of the Patriot Act.
“This bill requires proof that data sought is relevant to an authorized investigation into international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities,” he said. “It also requires proof that these activities relate to a foreign power or agent, or at least an individual in contact with a foreign power or agent.
In addition to ending bulk collection practices, this legislation will also do the following:
Protects Americans’ communications collected under the FISA Amendments Act. The bill requires the government to obtain a court order in order to search for the communications of Americans in data collected without individualized warrants.
Creates new and shorter sunset provisions for current law. The USA Freedom Act shortens the sunset for the FISA Amendments Act from December 2017 to June 2015. The June 2015 sunset would align with the sunset for three expiring USA Patriot Act provisions, including Section 215, and enables Congress to address these FISA provisions all at once instead of in a piecemeal fashion.
Reforms the FISA Court. The USA Freedom Act creates an Office of the Special Advocate tasked with promoting privacy interests in the FISA Court’s closed proceedings.
Increases transparency and oversight by allowing private companies to disclose basic information about their participation in NSA surveillance programs. The bill would also require the government to provide new public reporting on FISA implementation.
Imposes safeguards on National Security Letters (NSL). The USA Freedom Act adopts language to ensure the government does not move the bulk collection program under a different authority. It also limits the types of records that can be obtained using NSLs, which do not require court approval.