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Franken pushes surveillance transparency bill as Congress weighs its options

WASHINGTON — Franken’s bill is one of a dozen to address government survillance programs after revelations about them this summer.

After heavy backlash following revelations about American surveillance programs over the summer, the federal government has begun releasing a little bit of information about those programs.
REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach
  • It would require officials to disclose how many people are targets of government surveillance programs, an estimate how many of them are Americans, and how many people’s communications the government actually collects under the Federal Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).
  • And it would lift a gag order preventing communication or technology companies from discussing the amount of information they give the government under FISA. Companies are currently unable to acknowledge what’s been, by now, widely reported, that the government has asked them to provide information from their users under federal intelligence laws. (A Google lawyer, under direct questioning Wednesday, said he was barred from providing a number.)
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  • The first, from Leahy, would completely overhaul the NSA surveillance program, ending the practice of so-called “bulk collection” of communication records by requiring the government to justify the records’ relevance to terror investigations. Privacy groups like the bill and it’s received bipartisan support on the hill. (Wisconsin Republican James Sensenbrenner, who wrote the Patriot Act, introduced the House version.) Bankston called the bill a “collection of very meaningful reforms,” and the tech industry is generally supportive as well.
  • The other bill, from Sen. Diane Feinstein, has received far fewer plaudits. Her bill would codify the NSA’s surveillance programs but attach some transparency provisions to it. Privacy and tech groups from the ACLU to the Electronic Frontier Foundation have slammed the bill, but the Senate Intelligence Committee approved it last month.