Civil liberties groups urge Senate to debate surveillance bill

by Jennifer Martinez, The HIll  |  published on December 26, 2012

surveillance bill

Civil liberties and privacy groups are urging the Senate to debate a handful of amendments that are aimed at beefing up the privacy protections in a controversial surveillance bill.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on Thursday said he plans to file cloture by the end of the day on the FISA Amendments Act, which would reauthorize the 2008 surveillance bill for another five years. The measure gives U.S. officials the authority to conduct surveillance on suspected terrorists abroad without a court order.

Reid is currently in discussions with lawmakers about taking up the bill with a limited number of amendments, a Senate aide said. Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) are among the senators that hope to have their amendments considered.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and Free Press have pressed the public to contact their senators this week about debating these amendments. The groups charge that the surveillance measure lacks transparency and could be used to sweep up American citizens’ communications without a warrant.

In a blog post published on Wednesday, EFF called for more transparency about how the law works.

“Senate leaders, Democrat Harry Reid and Republican Mitch McConnell, owe the American public a debate about this law—including how many Americans have been scooped up in it, how many times it has been used in non-terrorism investigations and how much it has cost the American taxpayers,” Trevor Timm, an activist at EFF, wrote in the post.

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