Jim In the News
The USA Freedom Act: a look at the key points of the draft bill
By Dan Roberts
Jim Sensenbrenner, the conservative Republican who co-authored the Patriot Act, is preparing to publish legislation that would significantly curtail the domestic surveillance powers afforded to the US intelligence agencies.View online, here.
The bill has a somewhat cumbersome title: the Uniting and Strengthening America by Fulfilling Rights and Ending Eavesdropping, Dragnet-Collection and Online Monitoring Act. But it's one of those pieces of legislation that has been named for its acronym: the USA Freedom Act.
Sensenbrenner, who worked with president George W Bush to give more power to US intelligence agencies after the September 11 terrorist attacks, said the intelligence community had misused those powers by collecting telephone records on all Americans, and claimed it was time "to put their metadata program out of business".
The Guardian has seen a draft of the bill. Here are the key points:
• Ending bulk metadata collection. Section 215 of the Patriot Act would be tightened to place more onus on intelligence agencies to show they are looking for specific suspects and do not inadvertently sweep up information on innocent Americans. They would have to show a Fisa court judge that the target was thought to be an agent of a foreign power, was engaged in activity that was the subject of an investigation, or was an individual in contact with an agent of foreign power.
• Disclosure. The attorney general would be required to publicly disclose decisions by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance (Fisa) court that contain a significant construction or interpretation of law, but may continue to classify confidential parts. Specific information on individuals would not be disclosed, but the policy changes would be. The intent is that the bill would end “secret laws” being made behind closed doors by the Fisa courts and the intelligence community.
• Greater transparency. Internet and telephone companies that received Fisa court orders would be allowed to report the number of Fisa orders and national security letters complied with, and number of users on whom information was demanded.
• Privacy advocate. The bill creates an office of special advocate within the Fisa court who would have standing to appear to represent the public and privacy concerns. They would be chosen from a list recommended by Obama's privacy and civil liberties oversight board but a Fisa court judge would appoint from that list. This judicial appointment would have the power to appeal Fisa court decisions.
• Foreign loopholes. The bill amends section 702 (b) of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to prevent intelligence agencies from “reverse targeting” that may allow them to intercept email and internet communications of Americans. It also calls on the US inspector general to investigate whether current minimization procedures adequately protect the constitutional rights of US persons and gives more legal powers to the privacy and civil liberties oversight board.
• Other loopholes. Title 4 of Fisa, known as the pen register and trap-and-trace provisions, would be amended to make sure the government does not just rebuild its metadata dragnet using different authorities.