Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ) has introduced legislation to repeal federal surveillance laws that the government abused by collecting personal information on millions of Americans in violation of the Constitution, as revealed by a federal whistleblower and multiple media outlets last month.
"As we now know, the National Security Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation have been collecting the personal communications of literally millions of innocent Americans for no legitimate reason," said Holt. "Instead of using these powers to zero in on the tiny number of real terrorist threats we face, the executive branch turned these surveillance powers against the American people as a whole. My legislation would put a stop to that right now."
Holt’s bill, the "Surveillance State Repeal Act", would repeal the PATRIOT Act and the FISA Amendments Act, each of which contains provisions that allowed the dragnet surveillance. The bill would reinstate a uniform probable cause-based warrant standard for surveillance requests, and prohibit the federal government from forcing technology companies from building in hardware or software "back doors" to make it easier for the government to spy on the public. Additional features of the bill include the true legal protections for national security whistleblowers, as well as changes to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to give it greater expertise in reviewing and challenging executive branch applications for surveillance operations.
"The executive branch’s groundless mass surveillance of Americans has turned our conception of liberty on its head. My legislation would restore the proper constitutional balance and ensure our people are treated as citizens first, not suspects."
Summary of the Surveillance State Repeal Act
The Surveillance State Repeal Act would:
- Repeal the PATRIOT Act (which contains the telephone metadata harvesting provision).
- Repeal the FISA Amendments Act (which contains the email harvesting provision).
- Ensure that any FISA collection against a US Person takes place only pursuant to a valid warrant based on probable cause (which was the original FISA standard from 1978 to 2001).
- Retain the ability for government surveillance capabilities to be targeted against a specific natural person, regardless of the type of communications method(s) or device(s) being used by the subject of the surveillance.
- Retains provisions in current law dealing with the acquisition of intelligence information involving weapons of mass destruction from entities not composed primarily of U.S. Persons.
- Prohibit the government from mandating that electronic device or software manufacturers build in so-called "back doors" to allow the government to bypass encryption or other privacy technology built into said hardware and/or software.
- Increase the terms of judges on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) from seven to ten years and allow their reappointment.
- Mandate that the FISC utilize technologically competent Special Masters (technical and legal experts) to help determine the veracity of government claims about privacy, minimization and collection capabilities employed by the US government in FISA applications.
- Mandate that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) regularly monitor such domestic surveillance programs for compliance with the law, including responding to Member requests for investigations and whistleblower complaints of wrongdoing.
For the text of the legislation, click here.