Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) has positioned herself as one of the primary Congressional defenders of the National Security Agency’s bulk surveillance programs following recent controversy, and she has even penned a “reform” bill that codifies the spy agency’s powers.
Feinstein’s bill, dubbed the FISA Improvements Act, is different from much of the other legislation proposed by her Congressional peers following whistle-blower Edward Snowden’s leaks because, while it would implement modest reporting requirements for the agency, the legislation green lights the continued collection of metadata on every phone call in the United States.
“This is not reform but an attempt to put a congressional stamp of approval on gross privacy violations. We will fight this bill for what it is — a way to make the worst abuses of the Patriot Act permanent,” American Civil Liberties Union attorney Michelle Richardson told POLITICO in reference to Feinstein’s bill.
The Feinstein bill is competing with other efforts to address the NSA controversy in the Senate which offer strict privacy protections and transparency requirements and curtail the NSA’s data collection abilities. One of the strongest efforts, the “USA Freedom Act,” has been offered by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.).
That bill would effectively end the bulk collection of communications data that was authorized by Section 215 of the Patriot Act. The bill would also introduce a number of safeguards and reforms to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Court, which governs the NSA.
Last week, Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) added his name to the Leahy bill and criticized the Senate Intelligence Committee for moving Feinstein’s bill late last month.
“I am proud to add Chairman Leahy as a co-sponsor of our Intelligence Oversight and Surveillance Reform Act. Our bipartisan legislation sets the bar for real, meaningful reforms to surveillance law,” said a statement from Wyden. “This includes ending the dragnet domestic surveillance that has infringed on the Constitutional rights of millions of Americans without making our country any safer.”
Wyden was one of four members of the Intelligence Committee who voted against Feinstein’s bill.
“Now that the Senate Intelligence Committee has decided to preserve surveillance business-as-usual, Chairman Leahy’s legislation is now our best hope for reform in this Congress,” Wyden’s statement said.
Earlier in the month, however, Feinstein vowed to kill the Leahy bill which a growing number of her colleagues have embraced, saying: “I will do everything I can to keep this program from being canceled out… to destroy it is to make this nation more vulnerable.”
It has previously been noted that Feinstein’s undying dedication to keeping the surveillance status quo intact has led some people to question whether her efforts are truly the result of a belief that “it’s the only way we prevent an attack” or if she simply has become too close to the Nation’s intelligence agencies. And a recent comparison of campaign contributions to Feinstein and Leahy by top the Nation’s top intelligence contractors from MapLight may provide the answer.
According to the numbers, Feinstein has received three times more money from top intelligence service contractors than Leahy since 2007: