Bipartisan Coalition Led By Senators Lee and Leahy Introduce Legislation To Ban Bulk Collection Under Section 215

USA FREEDOM Act of 2015 Would Bring Historic Reforms To Surveillance Authorities

April 28, 2015

WASHINGTON -- Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Senate Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) on Tuesday introduced legislation to restore Americans’ eroded privacy rights by ending the government’s dragnet collection of phone records under Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act.  An identical bill was introduced in the House on Tuesday, and lawmakers from across the political spectrum called on Congressional leaders to take up the measure ahead of a key deadline for expiring surveillance authorities.

The USA FREEDOM Act of 2015 ends bulk collection under Section 215 and requires greater oversight, transparency, and accountability with respect to domestic surveillance authorities.  Three provisions of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), including Section 215, are due to sunset on June 1.

Last Congress, Senator Leahy convened six hearings of the Judiciary Committee to examine the scope of the bulk collection program and the need for greater transparency.  Senators Lee and Leahy also joined together last year with a host of bipartisan cosponsors to introduce the USA FREEDOM Act of 2014.  Unfortunately, that legislation was blocked from consideration in November.  Since then, both Senators have continued to work across the aisle and with their counterparts in the House of Representatives to find a way forward to end bulk collection of Americans’ data under Section 215.

Senator Lee said: “The Fourth Amendment safeguards liberty by protecting against government abuse of power.  Indiscriminate collection of data about Americans is a dangerous tool in the hands of government.  Members of Congress cannot continue to grant such broad discretion to secretive government agencies.  Our liberty is threatened when government claims the power to spy on its own citizens.  That is why I am co-sponsoring the USA FREEDOM Act of 2015 which finds the proper balance national security and privacy.”
Senator Leahy said:  “Today we are introducing a bill to end the NSA’s bulk collection program.  The bipartisan, bicameral USA FREEDOM ACT of 2015 is the product of intense and careful negotiations between the House and Senate.  If enacted, our bill will usher in the most significant reform to government surveillance authorities since the USA PATRIOT Act.  I commend Chairman Goodlatte, Ranking Member Conyers, Congressman Sensenbrenner, and Congressman Nadler for their bipartisan efforts in the House.  Together with our coalition in the Senate, we show today that there is a bipartisan path forward to end the NSA’s dragnet surveillance and protect Americans’ privacy rights.”
The Senate version of the USA FREEDOM Act of 2015 released today is cosponsored by Senators Dean Heller (R-Nev.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Al Franken (D-Minn.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Steve Daines (R-Mont.), and Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.).  It also has the support of the administration, privacy groups, and the technology industry.   An identical bill was introduced today in the House of Representatives by Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), House Judiciary Committee Ranking Member John Conyers (D-Mich.), Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), and others.
An outline of the USA FREEDOM Act of 2015 can be found here, and text of legislation can be found online.
Broad Support for the USA FREEDOM Act of 2015
  • Senator Dean Heller (R-Nev.): “I strongly believe Nevadans and all Americans are losing too much of their privacy under current law.  The PATRIOT Act needs to be repealed and replaced with the USA FREEDOM Act, which stops the collection of bulk metadata housed at the NSA without degrading the operational capabilities of the intelligence community to protect the United States from terror attacks.  I am proud to stand with this bipartisan group of lawmakers who also believe we have gone too far and invaded the privacy of Americans.  I look forward to voting in favor of this legislation and against any reauthorization of the PATRIOT ACT without significant reforms like those outlined in USA FREEDOM.”
  • Senator Dick Durbin (D-Ill.): “Safeguarding the privacy of our citizens while protecting America’s national security is one of the most important issues facing Congress today, and striking that balance is no easy task.  This bill will make critical reforms to the government’s bulk collection of Americans’ telephone and internet records, and put in place measures to increase transparency and accountability in our national security agencies.  With new threats to America emerging constantly and at a time of alarming reports of overreach by our intelligence gathering operations, I hope Congress can advance these crucial bipartisan reforms.”  
  • Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas): “A clean reauthorization of the USA PATRIOT Act’s bulk record collection program is not acceptable.  It is absolutely critical for Congress to balance the privacy interests of law-abiding citizens against the public’s interest in national security.  The USA FREEDOM Act of 2015 strikes the right balance by ending the National Security Agency’s unfettered data collection program and implementing other surveillance reforms, while at the same time preserving the government’s ability to obtain information to track down terrorists when it has sufficient justification and support for doing so.”
  • Senator Al Franken (D-Minn.):“The government has to give proper weight to keeping Americans safe and protecting both their security and privacy.  But the public can't know if we're striking that balance if they don't have even the most basic information about major surveillance programs.  That's why my focus in reforming the NSA has been on transparency.  I was pleased to see that the transparency provisions in the USA FREEDOM Act are based on bipartisan legislation I wrote with Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada, because I want to make sure that the American people are able to decide for themselves whether the government is striking the right balance between privacy and security.”
  • Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.): “This measure will ban unnecessary bulk collection of Americans’ phone records and prevent the targeting of U.S. citizens helping to restore and retain public confidence and trust in our intelligence programs.  Doubt, suspicion, and distrust will only deepen without meaningful reform.  This historic step forward will preserve privacy rights of Americans while protecting our national security.  I am pleased that this legislation also includes provisions that will reform the FISA court including my proposal for a constitutional advocate to help secure constitutional rights.  These changes will help create balance and fairness in those proceedings.  There is still significant progress to be made to ensure Americans’ privacy rights are not threatened by government surveillance, but this legislation is a step in the right direction.”
  • Senator Steve Daines (R-Mont.): “The American people have seen firsthand the dangers of big government’s intrusion into our daily lives, our personal information and our privacy.  It’s critical that comprehensive reforms are put in place to end the mass collection of Americans’ personal data and protect Americans’ civil liberties from the egregious abuses of power we’ve witnessed at the hands of the federal government.  I will keep fighting until Americans’ privacy and personal information is secure from government overreach.”
  • Senator Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.): “This bill strikes the right balance between liberty and security.  The USA FREEDOM Act extends critical law enforcement tools, but it does so with safeguards that will help prevent abuse.  This is a strong bipartisan compromise that deserves strong support from both sides of the aisle.”