Published On: Tue, Oct 24th, 2017

USA RIGHTS Act introduced in the Senate to protect Americans’ security and liberties

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and a total of 11 senators today introduced the USA RIGHTS Act, which reforms a sweeping, secretive government spying program to protect the Constitutional rights of Americans, while giving intelligence agencies authority to target foreign terrorists, criminals and other overseas intelligence targets.

Photo of the US Constitution taken in the rotunda of the National Archives photo Mr. T in DC via Flickr

Reps. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., Ted Poe, R-Texas and Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-Texas, introduced companion legislation in the House of Representatives.

The Uniting and Strengthening America by Reforming and Improving the Government’s High-Tech Surveillance (USA RIGHTS) Act—is co-sponsored in the Senate by: Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisc., Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii., Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass, and Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont.

The bill reforms Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to end warrantless backdoor searches of Americans’ calls, emails, texts and other communications that are routinely swept up under a program designed to spy on foreign targets. The sweeping authority has been clouded in secrecy, in part because the government refuses to answer essential questions about how it impacts Americans, including who can be targeted and how many American communications the government collects.

“Without common-sense protections for Americans’ liberties, this vast surveillance authority is nothing less than an end-run around the Constitution,” Wyden said. “Our bill gives intelligence agencies the authority they need to protect our country, but safeguards our essential freedoms with new provisions requiring judicial oversight and pushing back on the creeping expansion of secret law.”

“Congress must not continue to allow our constitutional standard of ‘innocent until proven guilty’ to be twisted into ‘If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear.’ The American people deserve better from their own government than to have their Internet activity swept up in warrantless, unlimited searches that ignore the Fourth Amendment. Our bill institutes major reforms that prove we can still protect our country while respecting our Constitution and upholding fundamental civil liberties,” said Sen. Paul.

“The USA RIGHTS Act is the best way to shut the backdoor on warrantless spying and to protect Americans’ constitutional rights,” Lofgren said. “As evidenced by multiple votes by the whole House of Representatives, support for these reforms is strong and bipartisan. While there are multiple section 702 reform efforts currently underway, these efforts have yet to provide the level of constitutional protections that the American people deserve.”

“Americans Fourth Amendment rights are at stake,” said Rep. Poe. “Our bill protects individual freedoms while maintaining intelligence agencies the ability to continue to protect the United States. The days of government searching through Americans private data while skirting through back doors without a warrant must end. The U.S.A. Rights Act ends the warrantless surveillance of Americans through section 702. This makes liberty paramount. Americans should not be forced to sacrifice individual liberty and constitutional rights for false security.”

“Requiring a warrant for a search of information or personal data if the inquiry is about an America citizen is simply the constitutional and right thing to do,” said Congressman O’Rourke. “The USA RIGHTS Act is a bipartisan, bicameral and basic, commonsense piece of legislation that safely reforms Section 702.”

“Unlike the other proposals recently offered in the House and Senate, the USA RIGHTS Act makes substantial reforms that seek to meaningfully mitigate the risk Americans will have their privacy violated,” said Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich.

Read a one-page summary of the bill here. A full summary of the bill is here. The full text of the bill is here.

The USA RIGHTS Act has been endorsed by a broad coalition of 42 grassroots, civil liberties and government transparency advocates, including FreedomWorks, Demand Progress, American Civil Liberties Union. Read the full list of endorsers here and statements of support here. 

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