WASHINGTON - Senators Mark Udall and Ron Wyden, who both serve on the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said Friday they will introduce legislation that would limit the federal government's ability to collect data on Americans without a demonstrated link to terrorism or espionage.
Their legislation follows reports that the federal government has used a "secret interpretation" of the PATRIOT Act, renewed in 2011, to continuously collect data on Americans.
"The NSA's collection of millions of Americans' phone call records is the type of overreach I have warned about for years," Udall said.
"Although I strongly believe some authorities under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act provide valuable information that helps protect our national security, Americans with no link to terrorism or espionage should not have to worry that their private information is being swept up," he added. "This legislation strikes the right balance in protecting our homeland while also respecting our Constitution and Americans' widely cherished privacy rights."
Wyden said, "This legislation will give the government broad authorities to investigate terrorism but will also protect law-abiding Americans from the type of invasive surveillance activities that Senator Udall and I have been warning about for years."
"The disclosures of the last week have made clear to the American people that the law is being interpreted in a way that damages their civil liberties and that the system has been set up to keep Americans unaware of the intrusion," the Oregon Democrat said.
"When you combine this proposed bill with legislation introduced to declassify FISA court rulings, we are well on our way to better protecting those liberties and promoting an informed public debate," Wyden added.
In a news release, Udall and Wyden said they have been at the forefront of questioning the recently disclosed widespread collection of Americans' calls.
Udall and Wyden called on Gen. Keith B. Alexander, the head of the National Security Agency and U.S. Cyber Command, to clarify his remarks this week that the surveillance programs disclosed through leaks and declassification over the past week have helped avert "dozens of terrorist attacks" in recent years.
They also recently questioned assertions that the NSA's bulk collection of Americans' phone records "has actually provided any uniquely valuable intelligence" beyond what is available through other, less intrusive surveillance programs.