October 29, 2013

Senate committee begins debate on bill to curtail mass surveillance

Markup starts on FISA changes.

The Senate Intelligence Committee will mark up its highly anticipated changes to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act this afternoon in a closed session, a meeting that sources said could take nearly four hours.

The bill, announced by chair Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., at a rare open hearing last month, was a committee response to public outcry about the National Security Agency’s metadata collection programs. The mass surveillance was revealed in June through documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. Feinstein said the committee was considering a myriad of changes to FISA, including new limitations on access to collected metadata and tighter requirements for reporting to Congress on the NSA’s programs.

Although certain provisions of the bill would rein in the Agency’s abilities, one provision would extend its authority by allowing a 7-day window in which the NSA could collect data on a foreign target that has entered the U.S.

But much has changed since Feinstein first announced the legislation, particularly in the last week. Feinstein’s announcement came originally at a time when concerns largely focused on the NSA’s domestic metadata collection, while recent revelations of international surveillance -- specifically, on allied European leaders -- have added a new dimension to the criticism.

Feinstein, often considered a staunch supporter of the NSA’s programs, issued a statement Monday that indicated a shift in position, and suggested that the Senate Intelligence Committee, hailed by officials as adequate congressional oversight, was not fully aware of the Agency’s international efforts. It was unclear whether the bill would address any of the recent revelations.

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