Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy introduced a bill Monday that would cut short by two years the operational authority of the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) courts that allowed the federal government to collect phone and email records of millions of Americans without a warrant.
The Vermont Democrat introduced similar legislation in the past, but it never had enough support on Capitol Hill. The latest bill, however, has broader, bipartisan support following revelations from a former government contractor that the National Security Agency has been secretly collecting millions of records.
“The recent public revelations about two classified data collection programs have brought renewed attention to the use of government surveillance powers, which deserve close scrutiny by Congress,” Leahy said in a statement Monday. “The comprehensive legislation that I am introducing today will not only improve the privacy protections and accountability provisions associated with these authorities, but also strengthen oversight and transparency provisions in other parts of the USA Patriot Act."
Leahy’s bill would shut down the FISA court’s authority by 2015 – at the same time the Patriot Act authorizing it is set to expire – rather than 2017 as current law now allows.
The bill would also increase reporting requirements for the court and “narrow surveillance authority, where appropriate,” according to Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, a co-sponsor.
It would require that an independent audit be done to determine the impact existing surveillance programs have had on Americans' privacy.
Leahy’s previous attempts to limit the FISA courts have made it through the Senate but were later killed by House negotiators.
Polls show Americans generally support the surveillance programs, but a significant majority want greater congressional oversight of the programs.