David Cole writes: On Tuesday, Senator Patrick Leahy introduced the revised USA Freedom Act, a bipartisan bill to rein in the National Security Agency’s collection of telephone and Internet records. If Congress enacts Senator Leahy’s bill in its current form, it will mark the most significant reform of US intelligence gathering since the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, enacted in the 1970s in response to the Church Committee’s revelations of abusive spying practices on political dissidents and activists.
This time, of course, the calls for reform were sparked not by a congressional inquiry, but by information leaked by Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor who risked criminal prosecution and de facto banishment to let Americans know what its most expansive spy agency was doing to their rights in the name of their security. In December 2013, six months after Snowden’s first revelations, the president’s own expert panel recommended changes to the NSA program. In May, the House passed an earlier version of the USA Freedom Act, which unfortunately had been watered down at the behest of Obama administration officials in secret last-minute negotiations. Senator Leahy’s bill would significantly strengthen the House bill.
Leahy’s bill comes not a moment too soon. Two reports issued on Monday bring into full view the costs of a system that allows its government to conduct dragnet surveillance without specific suspicions of wrongdoing. In With Liberty to Monitor All, Human Rights Watch and the ACLU make a powerful case that mass surveillance has already had a devastating effect on journalists’ ability to monitor and report on national security measures, and on lawyers’ ability to represent victims of government overreaching. And the same day, the New America Foundation issued Surveillance Costs, a report noting the widespread economic harm to US tech companies that NSA surveillance has inflicted, as potential customers around the world take their business elsewhere. [Continue reading…]