USA Freedom Act Passes House

Still has to pass Senate; President has signaled support
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The House has passed the USA Freedom Act (338-88), a bill that, at least according to its many supporters, ends the National Security Agency's indiscriminate collection of bulk communications data.

The bill was a delicate compromise, with no amendments added in committee or on the House floor because leadership had signaled that even one would kill the bill.

The USA Freedom Act, which renews some portions of the PATRIOT Act, does not prevent data collection, but makes it more targeted and boosts transparency about what is being collected, among other things. A clean version of the bill passed overwhelmingly (25 to 2) out of the House Judiciary Committee April 30.

The bill must still pass in the Senate and be signed by the President. The Administration has signaled its support for the bill.

Bill backers were quick to celebrate, some applause more muted than others, while opponents called it "fake reform."

The Consumer Electronics Association urged the Senate to follow the House's lead.

“We applaud the House for acting swiftly to pass this important legislation ahead of the upcoming expiration of Section 215 of the Patriot Act," said CEA senior VP Michael Pettricone. "The bipartisan USA FREEDOM Act is common sense reform to our nation’s intelligence gathering programs, which will restore trust in American services and products and preserve our competitiveness worldwide, while continuing to protect our national security."

“This legislation takes several steps in the right direction to end mass surveillance," said the Computer & Communications Industry Association president Ed Black. "While the bill does not completely reform all the NSA’s mass surveillance authorities, it does significantly narrow the ability of the NSA to collect call records and offers greater oversight and transparency in the government’s electronic surveillance activities. 

“Although it does not include all of the reforms that will ultimately be necessary to rein in the NSA, House passage of the USA FREEDOM Act is an important first step toward protecting Americans’ privacy, reforming our foreign intelligence laws, and restoring the consumer trust in American tech companies that has been lost in the last two years,” said Kevin Bankston, policy director at New America’s Open Technology Institute.

“With such strong bipartisan support in the House, the Senate should act quickly to pass the USA FREEDOM act in order to end the most egregious constitutional violation: the bulk collection of Americans’ telephone records,” said Berin Szoka, president of TechFreedom. “Senators must reject calls to reauthorize the PATRIOT Act without significant reform, whether that’s for a month, a year, or five years.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) proposed a straight PATRIOT Act reauthorization in the Senate.

“The American people, through their House, have spoken and their message for the U.S. Senate is clear: the bulk surveillance of Americans’ library, phone, internet and other records must end and end now," said Emily Sheketoff, executive director of the American Library Association Washington Office. "The American Library Association strongly supports passage of the USA FREEDOM Act as just passed by the House — nothing less. As to extending Section 215 and other expiring provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act without the USA FREEDOM Act’s reforms, our position is equally simple — nothing, not a minute, more.”

Not everyone was happy with the outcome. Fight for the Future, which has been fighting to get the PATRIOT Act thrown out. called it fake reform.

“Congress is trying to sell the USA Freedom Act to the American people as reform, but what the bill actually does is extend and expand the government’s power to monitor our communications under the PATRIOT Act," said Tiffiniy Cheng, cofounder of Fight for the Future. "Far from reform, the bill will allow the government to invade even more of our private moments than ever by updating their surveillance powers for the devices and communications platforms we use most often these days.”

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