House Passes New Version of USA FREEDOM Act

On May 22, the U.S. House of Representatives voted 303-121 to pass a significantly compromised version of the USA FREEDOM Act.  The bipartisan legislation, originally introduced in both houses by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Representative James Sensenbrenner (R-WI), seeks to end the National Security Agency’s (NSA) bulk collection of U.S. phone data and reduce the NSA’s overbroad surveillance of private data through other programs.

“This is Congress’s first decisive step towards ending the government’s mass domestic spying program,” said Virginia Sloan, president of The Constitution Project, a bipartisan legal watchdog group.  While the new bill has been stripped of many provisions that The Constitution Project supports, Sloan still hopes to see improvements on transparency and judicial oversight and more clear limits on the scope of surveillance when the Senate Judiciary Committee revisits the legislation next month.

“We applaud the House leaders who worked hard to bring this bill to the floor,” Sloan said. “We strongly urge the Senate to stay in the game and work for additional improvements.”

As opposed to the revised version of the bill passed by the House on May 22, TCP supports a strengthened USA FREEDOM Act that would set clearer limits on the NSA’s authority to collect domestic business records under Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act; close the loopholes in Section 702 of the 2008 FISA Amendments Act that permit reverse targeting, “about” (subject matter) targeting, and warrantless searches of domestic phone call and email content; increase NSA reporting to Congress and the public, and allow telecom and internet companies to report numbers of surveillance orders received and persons affected;  and empower a security-cleared special advocate to represent the public interest before the secret FISA Court.

The bill now moves to the Senate, where Leahy intends to work with the Senate Judiciary Committee to restore the original USA FREEDOM Act’s protections.

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