NSA spying: Bill to reform spying; effect on journalism and law

Ahead of the unveiling of a Senate bill tomorrow that would limit NSA spying, there’s also confirmation about an effect of the revelations of massive government surveillance: It’s changing the way lawyers and journalists do their jobs.

The House a couple months ago passed the USA Freedom Act, a bill that’s meant to reform the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of phone records. As we wrote then, critics say the bill’s vague language means it won’t bring about the change it promises. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, is set to introduce Tuesday a bill that might satisfy the critics: The NSA would have to ask for records specific to the person the agency is investigating, as opposed to broader collection. A New York Times editorial calls it a stronger bill that would also require the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to hear opposing arguments against surveillance requests — not to mention justify its decisions.

Meanwhile, journalists and lawyers are having to adjust to the reality that their communications with their sources and clients could be compromised, according to a new report from the ACLU and Human Rights Watch. Hillicon Valley notes that journalists surveyed say officials are less willing to talk with them for fear the government could be listening, and that lawyers are having to find other ways to ensure client confidentiality. According to the 120-page report, “government surveillance and secrecy are undermining press freedom, the public’s right to information, and the right to counsel, all human rights essential to a healthy democracy.”

 

Photo illustration from MCT archives

 

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