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Leahy proposes new oversight of surveillance programs

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., left, and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., right, chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, prepare for a hearing with FBI Director Robert Mueller, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, June 19, 2013. As Mueller nears the end of his 12 years as head of the law enforcement agency, the committee questioned him about the IRS, surveillance activities, and the Boston Marathon bombing. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) talks with Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.)  on June 19, 2013. (J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press)

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.)  unveiled a set of proposals Monday designed to increase oversight of and install safeguards against abuse in the federal government's surveillance programs.

Leahy's bill, dubbed the FISA Accountability and Privacy Protection Act, would:

* Shorten the current FISA authorization by two years, making it and the Patriot Act come up for renewal at the same time in June 2015.

* Increase the evidence threshold for obtaining records through Section 215 of the Patriot Act — the section under which the PRISM program operated.

* Order formal reviews of Section 215 and Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act -- the section under which collection of Americans' phone records occurred.

* Call for increased disclosure of National Security Letters and FISA decisions and an unclassified report summarizing their impact on Americans' privacy.

Leahy has proposed such reforms previously, when FISA and the Patriot Act were being renewed, but this time he has a Republican co-sponsor and potentially more bipartisan momentum  in light of recent disclosures of sensitive national security programs.

The bill is co-sponsored by Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah), Mark Udall (D-Colo.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Jon Tester (D-Mont.).

“The recent public revelations about two classified data collection programs have brought renewed attention to the use of government surveillance powers, which deserve close scrutiny by Congress,” Leahy said in a statement. “The comprehensive legislation that I am introducing today will not only improve the privacy protections and accountability provisions associated with these authorities, but also strengthen oversight and transparency provisions in other parts of the USA Patriot Act.”

Aaron Blake covers national politics and writes regularly for The Fix.

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