Senate Intelligence Approves New Surveillance Rules

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The Senate Intelligence Committee voted 11-4 on Wednesday to pass the FISA Improvements Act, a bill that seeks to codify government surveillance techniques and bring the covert activity under more regulation. The new rules, according to Politico, turn court-imposed limits into statutory requirements, adds a five-year retention limit to collected data, and requires every database query to be accompanied by explicit reasoning. It would also make the appointments of the National Security Agency's director and inspector general subject to Senate confirmation.

In addition, "While Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court proceedings never involve the targets of surveillance, Feinstein’s bill would allow the court to appoint lawyers to argue for the privacy rights of those affected."

The bill does, however, retain the NSA's massive phone metadata collection program, rationalized by section 215 of the Patriot Act, as well as allowing surveillance on foreigners entering the United States to continue for 72 hours, or longer with the permission of the attorney general.

Other parts of the bill impose penalties for failing to adhere to regulations, including up to ten years in prison for unauthorized access of data acquired under FISA, and the necessitation that all violations of law or executive order by intelligence agencies be reported to Congress.

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Though the bill was approved in a closed-door session,at least three of the dissenting votes belong to Senators Mark Udall of Colorado, Ron Wyden of Oregon and Martin Heinrich of New Mexico. All three are Democrats. In a statement, Udall said, "the bill passed by the Senate Intelligence Committee does not go far enough to address the NSA’s overreaching domestic surveillance programs.”

Wyden said in a statement, "More and more Americans are saying that they refuse to give up their constitutionally guaranteed liberties for the appearance of security; the intelligence committee has passed a bill that ignores this message."

Senate Committee Chairman Dianne Feinstein said in a press release, "The threats we face—from terrorism, proliferation and cyber attack, among others—are real, and they will continue. Intelligence is necessary to protect our national and economic security, as well as to stop attacks against our friends and allies around the world." Those sentiments were echoed by Vice Chairman Saxby Chambliss.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.