Senators Mark Udall and Ron Wyden, who serve on the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said the bipartisan group of senators who joined their effort today to limit the federal government's ability to collect data on Americans without links to terrorism or espionage is a sign of the growing support to reopen the USA PATRIOT Act. Udall and Wyden introduced their proposal today to ensure that the federal government can protect national security as well as the privacy rights of millions of Americans.
"There is growing, bipartisan support for Congress to reopen the PATRIOT Act and ensure that Americans without any links to terrorism or espionage do not have their private information collected by the government," Udall said. "The NSA's collection of millions of Americans' phone call records is the type of overreach I have warned about for years, and I am proud my colleagues have joined Sen. Wyden and me in this fight. We need to protect our national security, but we cannot lose sight of our constitutional liberties and the privacy rights of Americans."
"The recent disclosures of government surveillance activities have highlighted the gap between the government's interpretation of the PATRIOT Act and the public's understanding," Wyden said. "This gap has allowed the government to create secret programs that violate the civil liberties of law-abiding Americans who have absolutely no ties to terrorism or espionage. This bill will make abundantly clear that the personal information of ordinary Americans without connection to terrorism or espionage must be protected from invasive surveillance by their own government. The bipartisan support for this legislation shows that this is not a liberal or conservative ideal, but an American ideal."
The bill's original co-sponsors include Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Mike Lee (R-Utah), Mark Begich (D-Alaska), Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.).
Wyden and Udall's bill requires that intelligence agencies demonstrate to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court a link to terrorism or espionage before collecting Americans' private phone call data. This straightforward change to the PATRIOT Act would protect the privacy rights of Americans while still ensuring that the federal government has the tools it needs to protect the country from terrorism and espionage.
For years, the two senators have sought clarity from the federal government regarding how it interprets its FISA authorities and have led the effort to protect the communications of law-abiding Americans from indiscriminate collection and surveillance. And more recently, the two senators have been at the forefront of questioning the recently disclosed widespread collection of Americans' phone call data.
Udall and Wyden called on Gen. Keith B. Alexander, the head of the National Security Agency and U.S. Cyber Command, to clarify his remarks last week that the surveillance programs disclosed through leaks and declassification have helped avert "dozens of terrorist attacks" in recent years. They also recently questioned assertions that the NSA's bulk collection of Americans' phone records "has actually provided any uniquely valuable intelligence" beyond what is available through other, less intrusive surveillance programs. The bill’s language is based closely on similar legislation that passed the Senate by unanimous consent in 2005.