Sen. Bernie Sanders introduced legislation late Thursday to put strict limits on sweeping powers used by the National Security Agency and Federal Bureau of Investigation to secretly track telephone calls by millions of innocent Americans who are not suspected of any wrongdoing. “We must give our intelligence and law enforcement agencies all of the tools that they need to combat terrorism but we must do so in a way that protects our freedom and respects the Constitution’s ban on unreasonable searches,” Sanders said.
The legislation filed late yesterday would put limits on records that may be searched. Authorities would be required to establish a reasonable suspicion, based on specific information, in order to secure court approval to monitor business records related to a specific terrorism suspect.
Sanders’ bill would put an end to open-ended court orders that have resulted in wholesale data mining by the NSA and FBI. Instead, the government would be required to provide reasonable suspicion to justify searches for each record or document that it wants to examine.
The measure would eliminate a presumption in current law that anyone “known to” a suspect is relevant to the investigation. It also would increase congressional oversight by requiring the attorney general to provide reports to all members of Congress, not only members of the judiciary and intelligence committees.
The legislation to amend a provision in the so-called USA Patriot Act was prompted by disclosures in The Guardian and The Washington Post that a massive surveillance program relied on an expansive interpretation of that law to justify what had been secret court orders authorizing wholesale surveillance of telephone and Internet records.
Sanders voted against the law when it was first enacted in 2001 and when it was reauthorized in 2006 and 2011.
To read the bill (S. 1168), click here.