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Can the Freedom Act pacify the surveillance danger of the Patriot Act?

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Senator Patrick Leahy
Senator Patrick Leahy

A new NSA reform bill dubbed The USA Freedom Act was introduced today into both the House and Senate, co-sponsored by longtime privacy advocate Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Representative Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI), co-author of the Patriot Act. "The government surveillance programs conducted under the Foreign Surveillance Intelligence Act are far broader than the American people previously understood," Leahy said in a prepared statement. "Modest transparency and oversight provisions are not enough."

"Modest transparency and oversight provisions are not enough."

The bill's prime target is bulk data collection, which the bill would end by rewriting section 215 of the Patriot Act and imposing new limits on section 702 of FISA. Together, those two portions of law have been used to justify much of the NSA's current system of bulk collection and targeted queries. The bill would also place new restraints on the government's National Security Letter authority, and require the government to make public statements on the total number of individuals and US citizens who are subject to different types of FISA orders.

Support for the bill appears strong, with 16 co-sponsors in the Senate and more than 70 in the House, all cutting across party lines. Outside groups like Mozilla, the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Rifle Association have also endorsed the bill as offering meaningful reform. Still, the most interesting impact may be political, laying the groundwork for a major legislative fight on surveillance in June of 2015. Three separate provisions of the Patriot Act are already due for renewal that month, and the new bill would move the expiration of the FISA amendments act to come during the same period, encouraging further reforms when the renewals coincide.