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US Senators propose overhaul of surveillance laws

US Senators announced new legislation on Wednesday in a bipartisan effort to reform surveillance laws. In the wake of revealing disclosures from the National Security Agency (NSA) [official website] and Edward Snowden [JURIST news archive], Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), along with co-sponsors Mark Udall (D-CO), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Rand Paul (R-KY), hopes to enact "real, and not just cosmetic, intelligence reform" after outrage from the American public and skepticism from the international community. The bill, which has not yet been released, would close the government's access to bulk collection of communication records, which is currently authorized under Section 215 of the Patriot Act [text], put in place an independent constitutional advocate to argue against the government in front of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court [official website], and allow private companies to disclose a record of their participation with the NSA as well as challenge the constitutionality of the government's data collection.

The revelations surrounding NSA surveillance programs have sparked worldwide debate and controversy. Earlier this month the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website] urged the Obama administration [JURIST report] to curb the FBI's surveillance powers despite the FISC's release of a previously classified opinion justifying [JURIST report] the need for the NSA's surveillance program. Last month the Council of Europe [official website] expressed concern [JURIST report] over the UK reaction to the exposure of the US surveillance program. In June the ACLU in conjunction with the New York Civil Liberties Union [advocacy website] filed suit [JURIST report] against the NSA challenging its recently revealed phone data collection. Although the president and top officials have defended the surveillance as a lawful counterterrorism measure, several US lawmakers have called for a review [JURIST report] of the government's surveillance activity in light of recent reports revealing phone and Internet monitoring. Lawmakers have also called for a criminal investigation into the activities of Snowden, who came forward in early June as the whistleblower in the NSA surveillance scandal [JURIST podcast]. JURIST Guest Columnist Christina Wells argues that the broad provisions of the Espionage Act [text], under which Snowden is charged, raise significant First Amendment concerns [JURIST op-ed].

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