A bipartisan coalition of lawmakers from both ends of the political spectrum united on a bill Tuesday to impose severe limits on the intelligence community’s ability to spy on foreign targets, saying Americans need more assurances they’re not being ensnared.
The bill, sponsored by Sens. Ron Wyden, Oregon Democrat, and Rand Paul, Kentucky Republican, as well as Republicans and Democrats in the House, would force the government to obtain a warrant before searching communications of people in the U.S. under Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Those whose information is going to be used against them would have to be notified.
The new bill would also require more disclosure about use of Section 702, which allows the government to target communications of non-U.S. citizens located overseas, but which allows Americans’ communications to be scooped up if they’re talking with targets. Some Americans — including former top Trump national security aide Michael Flynn — have had those communications “unmasked” and leaked to their detriment, unsettling lawmakers.
Section 702 collection powers are due to expire at the end of this year, and the Trump administration has asked for a full, permanent renewal, but they are facing serious pushback on Capitol Hill.
Top leaders on the House Judiciary Committee have proposed a somewhat scaled-back 702 power that would require more disclosure and some restrictions on when the government can collect Americans’ data. It would also impose a six-year sunset to force Congress to review the authority.
The new Wyden-Paul bill is even stricter, and would impose a four-year sunset.
“Without common-sense protections for Americans’ liberties, this vast surveillance authority is nothing less than an end-run around the Constitution,” said Mr. Wyden.
Nine other senators are co-sponsoring the legislation and a companion bill was introduced in the House.
“Congress must not continue to allow our constitutional standard of ‘innocent until proven guilty’ to be twisted into ‘If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear,’” said Mr. Paul. “The American people deserve better from their own government than to have their Internet activity swept up in warrantless, unlimited searches that ignore the Fourth Amendment.”
The bill was introduced as the Senate Intelligence Committee is debating another bill behind closed doors on Tuesday offering reforms on Section 702 authored by Sen. Richard Burr, North Carolina Republican.