Passes Watered Down NSA Reform Bill
By Stephanie Condon
22 2014 "ICH"
The House on Thursday passed a watered down
version of the USA Freedom Act, even though some
privacy advocates say the amended version of the
bill may no longer achieve its stated goal of
curbing the National Security Agency's bulk data
version of the Freedom Act, passed by a vote of
303 to 121, does still prohibit the government's
direct bulk collection of phone metadata. Under
the legislation, the Foreign Intelligence
Surveillance Court (FISC) will have to approve
any government requests for phone records data
from telecommunications firms.
even Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., the sponsor
of the Freedom Act, acknowledged on the House
is rarely possible in politics, and this bill is
be clear, I wish this bill did more," the
congressman continued. "To my colleagues who
lament changes, I agree with you. To privacy
groups who are upset about lost provisions, I
share your disappointment... But this bill still
deserves support. Don't let the perfect be the
enemy of the good."
Sensenbrenner said the bill was amended after
"the administration insisted on broadening
certain authorities and lessening certain
restrictions," in order to preserve core
operations of intelligence and law enforcement
agencies. "The negotiations for this bill were
intense, and we had to make compromises," he
most controversial change to the legislation was
the tweaked language defining who or what the
NSA is allowed to monitor. The bill was altered
to greatly expand that definition, privacy
earlier version of the bill said that the
government could compel telecoms to hand over
metadata found with search terms "used to
uniquely describe a person, entity, or account."
The amended bill leaves the list of potential
search terms open-ended by adding the phrase
"such as" -- it says NSA searches must be tied
to "a discrete term, such as a term specifically
identifying a person, entity, account, address,
"Congress has been clear that it wishes to end
bulk collection, but given the government's
history of twisted legal interpretations, this
language can't be relied on to protect our
freedoms," the nonpartisan privacy group the
Electronic Frontier Foundation said in a
groups such as the ACLU and the Center for
Democracy and Technology warned against the
watered down language.
Rush Holt, D-N.J., said on the House floor,
"This legislation still allows the government to
collect everything they want against Americans."
Dutch Ruppersberger, D-Md., the top Democrat on
the House Intelligence Committee, said on the
House floor that the legislation still clearly
ends the bulk collection of metadata by the
who say otherwise, he said, "are trying to scare
you by making you think there are monsters under
initial legislation, he said, "set too high a
standard for intelligence collection." He
pointed out that the bill was amended in a
White House put out a statement of support for
the finalized bill, saying the legislation
"ensures our intelligence and law enforcement
professionals have the authorities they need to
protect the Nation, while further ensuring that
individuals' privacy is appropriately protected
when these authorities are employed."
the bill becomes law, it must also be approved
by the Senate. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., joined
Sensenbrenner in drafting the Freedom Act, and
on Wednesday, he expressed concern about its
glad the House is poised to act on a revised
version of the USA Freedom Act," he said.
"However, I remain concerned that some important
reforms were removed."
Congress doesn't pass legislation to authorize a
new, reformed version of the NSA metadata
collection program -- which is authorized under
Section 215 of the Patriot Act -- it could
disappear all together by June 2015 because of a
"sunset provision" in the Patriot Act.
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Justin Amash votes
against his own bill, the USA Freedom Act:
The Michigan congressman, who was an original
cosponsor of the USA Freedom Act, said he was
“proud” of the work he and others did to promote
the bill, but that he could not support the
draft legislation as it is currently written.