WASHINGTON, D.C. - U.S. Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich are backing legislation that seeks to restore Americans' privacy rights by ending the government's dragnet collection of phone records and requiring greater oversight, transparency, and accountability with respect to domestic surveillance authorities.
"In 2001, I voted against the Patriot Act because I believed it was hastily written and had the power to undermine the constitutional rights of our citizens. Unfortunately we now know that those concerns were justified - government surveillance under the law is far broader than the American people believe is acceptable," said Udall. "I have long fought for increased transparency and true reforms to our surveillance programs and the secret courts created under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. We can protect our national security and our constitutional rights, and the USA FREEDOM Act is an important step toward striking that balance."
"New Mexicans value their independence and their right to privacy guaranteed by the Constitution," said Heinrich, who serves on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. "We can and must balance the government's need to keep our nation safe with protecting our civil liberties. But recent revelations and declassified documents have shown the American people that the balance is off. We need to end the bulk collection of law-abiding Americans' private records and focus on targeting terrorists. I'm proud to join this bipartisan effort to restore the fundamental rights to be both safe and free."
The USA FREEDOM Act would end the dragnet collection of Americans' phone records under Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act and ensure that other authorities cannot be used to justify similar dragnet collection. The bill also provides more safeguards for warrantless surveillance under the FISA Amendments Act.
The bill includes other significant privacy and oversight provisions, provides for the creation of a Special Advocate to focus on the protection of privacy rights and civil liberties before the FISA Court, and requires more detailed public reporting about the numbers and types of FISA orders that are issued.
The USA FREEDOM Act was introduced today by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and also cosponsored by Senators Mike Lee (R-Utah), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Dean Heller (R-Nev.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Mark Begich (D-Alaska), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Mark Udall (D-Colo.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), and Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii).
The USA FREEDOM Act has the diverse support of groups ranging from the National Rifle Association to the American Civil Liberties Union. A companion bill in the House has more than 70 bipartisan cosponsors.