One of the most prominent supporters of the National Security Agency (NSA) has unexpectedly thrown his support behind legislation aimed at curtailing the U.S. government’s bulk collection of American phone records.
On Wednesday, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) shared a letter from Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, cosigned by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, voicing his approval of the USA Freedom Act.
The letter reads, in part:
“[T]he Intelligence Community believes that your bill preserves essential Intelligence Community capabilities; and the Department of Justice and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence support your bill and believe that is a reasonable compromise that enhances privacy and civil liberties and increases transparency.”
And it concludes, adding:
“Admittedly, it is possible that there are additional impacts that we will be able to identify only after we start to implement the new law. You have our commitment to notify Congress if we determine that the new law is impeding the Intelligence Community’s ability to protect national security. Overall, the bill’s significant reforms should provide the public greater confidence in our programs and the checks and balances in the system.”
The Senate version of the USA Freedom Act, introduced by Leahy in October 2013, was designed to end the dragnet collection of metadata by the NSA and bring transparency to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), which oversees requests for surveillance from federal law enforcement and intelligence agencies.
At first, the legislation was widely championed by civil libertarian groups and privacy activists. Changes to the bill last May, however, included new language that caused many organization, such as the Center for Democracy and Technology, to withdraw their full-fledged support. Regardless, the “watered down” legislation is still supported by many activists who view it as a first step toward comprehensive reform.