For the second time this year, the United States Senate will vote on a bill that could help to drastically curb some of the powers that the NSA has enjoyed for far too long, removing many of the programs that have allowed them to spy on Americans en masse, and strictly monitor the rest that provide a more balanced, albeit questionably effective means of preventing terrorists from communicating with each other across popular social networks like Facebook and Google+.
This week, Senator Patrick Leahy proposed new legislation that would effectively ban all bulk collection efforts by the spy agency outright, including campaigns such as those detailed in documents that revealed the existence of MUSCULAR, XKeyscore, and .
Unlike previous attempts to bring these programs down, this time the White House has thrown its administrative weight behind Leahy, fully supporting the bill and publicly announcing their willingness to take a stance on an intelligence arm which has clearly gone cattywampus in the 13 years since the towers came down and the country was left wondering why we didn’t see such a tragic event coming from a mile away.
“If enacted, this bill would represent the most significant reform of government surveillance authorities since Congress passed the USA Patriot Act 13 years ago,” said Leahy, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said on the Senate floor.
Dubbed the “USA Freedom Act”, the bill first hit the floor of the House of Representatives late in May of this year, however what eventually passed was a limp, gutted version of its previous self that could barely be described as an effective means for reducing the out-of-control powers that the NSA has wielded with an iron fist up until now.
Leahy’s version contains some more bite, with all the removed statutes written back in, alongside several others that should prevent intelligence-industry lobbyists from petitioning anyone without serious question being called into their character in the process.
“[This bill] is an improvement on the House-passed version at every step,” said Harley Geiger, senior counsel for the Center for Democracy and Technology, a nonprofit advocacy group.
Both civil liberties unions and privately held technology moguls were significantly more optimistic about the legislation this time around, throwing both their public support and private dollars behind getting it passed. Companies like IBM, Intel, Google and Microsoft have all suffered significant losses due to foreign concerns that their data could be at risk for surveillance on US soil, and each have been exceedingly vocal in their disapproval of the bulk collection methods ever since their existence was first revealed by whistleblower Edward Snowden last year.
Of course, several representatives from the more scrupulous unions like the ACLU still have a problem with a few of the statutes left in Leahy’s draft, including section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act of 2008, which would still allow the broad collection of domestic emails if deemed necessary by none other than POTUS himself.
“This is a marathon, not a sprint, and we have miles left to go,” said Laura W. Murphy, Washington legislative director for ACLU. In response, Leahy acknowledged there was more work to be done, saying “I’d like to get most of what we need, then work on the rest.”
Minor concerns and nitpicks aside, this is far and away the best shot that the United States has had at curbing the influence and power that the NSA has enjoyed with unchecked abandon. Whether or not the legislation will pass remains to be seen, but color this reporter excited for the mere prospect that their unregulated reign may finally be coming to an end.