A Democratic Senator will introduce legislation on Tuesday in an effort to reign in government mass surveillance and data collection and to increase transparency.
Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy's legislation is widely seen as an improvement to a previous bill which passed through U.S. House of Representatives in May. The White House has expressed support for Leahy's legislation as it looks to appease technology companies who have seen their overseas operations take a hit because foreign governments worry they might be working in concert with the National Security Agency (NSA), as well as privacy and civil liberties advocates.
"Chairman Leahy has done remarkable work reflecting the equities of intelligence professionals while crafting privacy enhancements, and these efforts have yielded significant progress on issues vital to those stakeholders," NSA spokesperson Ned Price said in an email to Reuters on Monday.
The bill would reduce the amount of data collected, alter how the NSA is allowed to collect data, as well as create a panel of privacy advocates to represent the public before the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court which currently only hears arguments from the government without opposition.
The New York Times published an editorial praising the spying reform bill on Monday urging the Senate to pass the bill without delay and without watering it down.“The bill represents a breakthrough in the struggle against the growth of government surveillance power,” The Times wrote.
The Washington Post published an article on July 5 which showed that 90 percent of people surveilled by the NSA online were inintended targets, while 50 percent of them were U.S. citizens. The article, based on NSA documents leaked by whistleblower Edward Snowden, also revealed that the security agency retained non-suspects' personal data pried from Facebook and email accounts, which included personal photos, stories of sexual encounters, and love letters.
The bill is unlikely to receive a vote until after the Senate's five-week summer recess which begins August 1.
The ACLU and Human Rights Watch issued a joint-report on Monday underlining how Washington's large-scale surveillance program is undermining democracy in the country.
"The U.S. holds itself out as a model of freedom and democracy, but its own surveillance programs are threatening the values it claims to represent," said report author Alex Sinha, Aryeh Neier Fellow at Human Rights Watch and the American Civil Liberties Union. "The U.S. should genuinely confront the fact that its massive surveillance programs are damaging many critically important rights."