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A bipartisan cadre of lawmakers in the House and Senate have introduced legislation that would reform the 9/11-era authorities used by the intelligence community to access Americans’ phone records and other domestic communications.
The Safeguarding Americans’ Private Records Act would narrow Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which provided the National Security Agency and sister intelligence agencies sweeping information-gathering authorities following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. According to lawmakers, the bill would end the phone surveillance program that would ensnare Americans’ phone records and prohibit the warrantless collection of location data. The bill would reform the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, adding transparency to secretive court processes that decide whether to surveil individuals.
While previous presidential administrations and Congresses have continually renewed the authorities, privacy advocates have voiced increasing opposition to the authorities, which allow for records and data to be vacuumed up without a warrant. The program was first exposed by former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden.
In a statement, Sen. Ron Wyden, D, Ore., said the bill “preserves authorities the government uses against criminals and terrorists, while putting Americans’ constitutional rights front and center.” A companion bill has been introduced in the House, led by Reps. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., and Warren Davidson, R-Ohio.
In recent years, the NSA ran into technical challenges handling and storing the data it is authorized to collect through its Call Detail Record program. Last April, NSA officials reportedly asked the White House to abandon the program, citing logistical and legal challenges outweighed its potential benefits.
The secretary of the Interior issued an order Wednesday grounding all of the Department of the Interior’s non-emergency drones so the agency can assess potential cybersecurity concerns before operating the devices any further.
“Drones for non-emergency operations will remain grounded while the Interior Department reviews the possibility of potential threats and ensures a secure, reliable and consistent drone policy that advances our mission while keeping America safe,” a Department of Interior (DOI) spokesperson said.
The order, which will be temporary, “is intended to better ensure the cybersecurity and supply of American technology of unmanned aircraft systems,” according to the order. Part of the DOI’s concern is that information on American energy, transportation, and defense infrastructure collected by DOI drones “has the potential to be valuable to foreign entities, organizations, and governments,” the order says.
While DOI grounded a fleet of approximately 800 Chinese-made drones last October, this order is intended to formalize and expand that grounding, a senior Interior official told reporters on a call Wednesday.
The order comes amid a spate of warnings and bans at multiple government agencies, including the Department of Defense, about possible vulnerabilities in Chinese-made drone systems that could be allowing Beijing to conduct espionage. The Army banned the use of Chinese-made DJI drones three years ago following warnings from the Navy about “highly vulnerable” drone systems.
One memo drafted by the Navy & Marine Corps Small Tactical Unmanned Aircraft Systems Program Manager has warned “images, video and flight records could be uploaded to unsecured servers in other countries via live streaming.” The Navy has also warned adversaries may view video and metadata from drone systems even though the air vehicle is encrypted. The Department of Homeland Security previously warned the private sector their data may be pilfered off if they use commercial drone systems made in China.