October 20, 2009 | By Kevin Bankston

Breaking News: House of Representatives Enters PATRIOT Fray With Two New Surveillance Reform Bills

This afternoon, leaders in the House of Representatives introduced their own USA PATRIOT Act reform bill, responding to the disappointing PATRIOT renewal bill approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee two weeks ago. The new bill — the USA Patriot Amendments Act of 2009 (HR 3845) — was introduced by House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers, Jr.; Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties Subcommittee Chairman Jerrold Nadler; and Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security Subcommittee Chairman Bobby Scott.

The text of the bill is available here [PDF]; a section-by-section summary of the bill is available here [PDF]. Based on EFF's initial review, the new bill is a significant improvement over the deeply flawed Senate bill, containing a substantial number of significant new checks and balances to the government's spying authorities under the PATRIOT Act — much like Senator Feingold's JUSTICE Act in the Senate, which was supported by EFF.

Not only have Representatives Conyers, Nadler, and Scott introduced a strong PATRIOT reform bill, but they've also gone even farther in seeking to protect their constituents' civil liberties by introducing a second bill (HR 3846) directed at reforming last year's FISA Amendments Act (FAA), which broadly expanded the government's authority to wiretap Americans without warrants and granted immunity to telcos that broke the law by assisting in the NSA's warrantless wiretapping program. The second bill introduced today — which, amongst other reforms, would prohibit the "bulk collection" of Americans' emails and phone calls under the FAA and would repeal the FAA's telco immunity provision — is available here [PDF], with a section-by-section summary here [PDF]. A press release from House Judiciary describing both bills is available here.

As we've said before, fixing PATRIOT without fixing the FAA is, from a civil liberties perspective, like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. We are incredibly thankful to these House leaders for working to reform both PATRIOT and the FAA.

We'll have more analysis and calls to action concerning these bills shortly, but wanted to post the materials as soon as possible, and to thank Representatives Conyers, Nadler and Scott for standing up for Americans' privacy. We look forward to helping to preserve the strong reforms in the bills — and hopefully to add some new ones — when they are considered by the House Judiciary Committee in coming weeks.

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