WASHINGTON -- A proposal unveiled Wednesday by Colorado Democrat Mark Udall and three other senators would end sweeping surveillance operations like the ones revealed by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden.
Under legislation being pushed by Udall, Democrats Ron Wyden of Oregon and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, and Republican Rand Paul of Kentucky, the government could only access telephone and Internet records of those suspected of terrorism or espionage.
The bill also would require a civil-rights advocate to be present during secret proceedings of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to safeguard the constitutional rights of millions of unsuspecting Americans whose communications have been monitored by the NSA.
"There's a growing, bipartisan sentiment in Colorado and all across our country that the balance between Americans' privacy and security is fundamentally out of whack," Udall said at a Capitol Hill news conference.
The Snowden leaks have revealed "what Sen. Wyden and have known for years and that is the NSA . . . has been unable to properly manage existing surveillance programs," he said.
Udall and Wyden, members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, have been vocal critics of the White House's surveillance policies and met with President Barack Obama recently to discuss their objections and possible solutions.
Udall has long opposed what he calls the intelligence court's unconstitutional interpretation of the Patriot Act -- which Congress passed after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to prevent future terrorist strikes -- to authorize massive communications searches to nab a small group of suspects. Snowden's leaks earlier this year touched off an uproar on Capitol Hill and revealed classified details that Udall was unable to divulge because of legal constraints.
Though the Obama administration has long defended its surveillance methods, which were carried over from the Bush White House, Obama in August agreed to reform the program.
He said he'll consult with Congress on ways to amend Section 215 of the Patriot Act to clarify the NSA's legal authority and limit what the agency can do with the data it collects. He also agreed to appoint a constitutional advocate, declassify additional NSA documents and court rulings, and appoint an independent group to review intelligence-gathering technology.
The measure being unveiled Wednesday comes as the Senate begins debating reform proposals. The Senate Intelligence Committee holds a hearing Thursday and the Senate Judiciary Committee considers the matter anew next week after holding a hearing in July.
Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., has emerged as a vocal defender of the administration's surveillance policies though she has embraced some reforms. Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said he's working with House and Senate members on a broad reform proposal and led a bipartisan Senate group that's pushing for an independent review of surveillance programs.
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