Yesterday U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) introduced a bill to put strict limits on the National Security Agency and Federal Bureau of Investigation and the broad powers given them by Presidents Bush and Obama to secretly track telephone calls, emails, and internet activities of all American citizens without congressional approval. One would suspect that the vast majority of American being spied upon 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 bill, filed June 16, would limit records that may be searched. Government agencies would be required to show cause for reasonable suspicion, based on specific information, to secure court approval to monitor business records related to a specific terrorism suspect, as opposed to collecting all information possible on every person possible.
Sanders’ bill would end to open-ended court orders allowing wholesale and universal data mining by the NSA and FBI. Under the bill the government would be required to provide reasonable evidence to show suspicion to justify searches for each record or document that it wants to examine.
The bill would eliminate the 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.
This bill amends a provision of the deceptively named “Patriot Act” and was prompted by massive public outcry after 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.