New privacy bill aimed at reforming FISA and the Patriot Act introduced in the Senate

The legislation tackles several areas of reform, such as advancing the FISA sunset date

New legislation aims to reform the Patriot and FISA Amendments Acts to apply greater oversight and control to the government's surveillance programs.

The bill, the FISA Accountability and Privacy Protection Act of 2013, comes following dramatic revelations about how the National Security Agency collects certain types of data about U.S. residents. One surveillance program of concern is Prism, an NSA data collection program that supposedly accesses the servers at Google, Apple, Microsoft, Facebook and other tech companies to mine people's personal data like emails and photos. Another is a phone call metadata collection program.

"The recent public revelations about two classified data collection programs have brought renewed attention to the government's broad surveillance authorities, and they underscore the need for close scrutiny by Congress," Senator Patrick Leahy, a Democrat from Vermont, said in a statement after introducing the bill.

The details about how the programs specifically work are fuzzy, but national intelligence director James Clapper has acknowledged that some form of both programs are conducted under Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act, for phone call metadata, and Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Amendments Act (FISA), for data content collection. Leahy's bill, which was introduced Monday along with support from a bipartisan group of senators, takes aim at these provisions to "strengthen privacy protections, accountability and oversight related to domestic surveillance."

The bill proposes multiple reforms. One measure, for instance, seeks to narrow the scope of Section 215 Patriot Act orders by requiring the government to show both relevance to an authorized investigation and a link to a foreign group or power. Section 215 has been criticized by privacy advocates who claim that the government has used it to obtain private information about people who do not have a direct link to terrorists.

Letting people challenge nondisclosure or "gag orders" in court, and expanding public reporting on the use of national security letters, are also proposed in the legislation.

The bill also aims to advance the sunset date for the FISA Amendments Act from June 2017 to June 2015, "to ensure timely re-examination of how these authorities are being utilized," Leahy said. The 2015 FISA sunset will also align with the Patriot Act sunsets, "enabling Congress to address these FISA provisions all at once, rather than in a piecemeal fashion," he added.

Finally, the bill would also increase oversight by requiring the inspector general of the intelligence community to conduct a comprehensive review of the FISA Amendments Act and its impact on the privacy rights of Americans, Leahy argued.

"These are all commonsense, practical improvements that will ensure that the broad and powerful surveillance tools being used by the government are subject to appropriate limitations, transparency and oversight," he said.

Senator Leahy pushed for a shorter sunset and greater transparency of the FISA Amendments Act last year, which the Senate rejected.

Zach Miners covers social networking, search and general technology news for IDG News Service. Follow Zach on Twitter at @zachminers. Zach's e-mail address is zach_miners@idg.com

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