U.S. Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., and Rep. Warren Davidson, R-Ohio, introduced a bill to reform Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act and prevent abuses of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

The bill comes ahead of the March 15 expiration of Section 215, which the National Security Agency used to create a secret mass surveillance program that swept up millions of Americans’ phone calls.

“Montanans want their privacy protected. That’s why I’m fighting to protect our civil liberties and to stop the federal government from interfering into our lives,” Sen. Daines said.

“As a former Army Ranger, I know the important role intelligence plays in protecting our country. However, ignoring the 4th amendment does not make Americans safer or more secure. Recent court decisions have made it clear that FISA section 215 is a clear violation of Americans’ right to privacy,” said Rep. Davidson. “I am proud to be an original cosponsor of bipartisan legislation that does a great deal to reestablish the Fourth Amendment’s privacy protections.”

The bill includes a host of reforms:

  • It would permanently end the flawed phone surveillance program, which secretly scooped up Americans’ telephone records for years.
  • It would close loopholes and prohibit secret interpretation of the law, like those that led to unconstitutional warrantless surveillance programs. 
  • It would prohibit warrantless collection of geolocation information by intelligence agencies.
  • It would respond to issues raised by the Inspector General’s office by ensuring independent attorneys, known as amici, have access to all documents, records and proceedings of Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, to provide more oversight and transparency. 

Steve Durbin, managing director of the Information Security Forum, says, “The bill addresses two issues of concern – the Fourth Amendment rights embedded in the Constitution and the increasing level of awareness of the need for protection of the privacy rights of the individual, a very 21st Century issue. The challenge for us all both inside and outside of government is how to balance the rights of the individual in an increasingly cyber enabled world in which cybercrime is becoming the norm with the needs of law enforcement to gather material for the protection of us all. There must be a balance between handing powers to the authorities to protect its citizens whilst also ensuring the protection of the individual’s right to privacy. But what is the right balance and how do we achieve it?"

"This debate has been ongoing for some time now and there is clearly a need to protect the rights of the individual around the collection, processing and storage of personal data," adds Durbin. "The answer, as embodied in other legislation such as the European GDPR for instance, would seem to be that any such collection should only be for specified, explicit and legitimate purposes and limited to what is necessary as defined by the courts and that the data once collected should not be stored for longer than is necessary. That being said, I see no near term end to the ongoing debate over the concern with the gathering and processing of personal information whether it be through surveillance programs such as that undertaken by the NSA or indeed more recently by other authorities around the world via facial recognition systems for example. We live in an increasingly surveilled world and guidelines and laws to protect the rights of the individual will need to continue to evolve to reflect the advancements that technology brings on a daily basis. Transparency and oversight are fundamental requirements and this Bill is at least an attempt, on a bi-partisan basis, to address what will be an ongoing challenge in our increasingly cyber-enabled world.”

Jack Mannino, CEO at nVisium, notes that “These are important steps towards protecting the civil liberties and Fourth Amendment rights of citizens. Intelligence agencies do important work, and it’s necessary for them to be able to do their jobs, while preserving legal and moral boundaries. States, such as California, have passed legislation to protect internet privacy, and other states are quickly moving in the same direction. Overreaching surveillance erodes trust in the systems we use and our expectation of privacy.”