updated 07:50 pm EDT, Wed May 7, 2014
Unanimous vote sends bill to House floor over NSA record collection, surveillance practices
The USA Freedom Act will make its way to the House of Representatives for vote after the House Judiciary Committee unanimously voted to approve the amended version, 32-0. If passed in the House, the act will require the NSA to acquire approval on a case-by-case basis via the FBI. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court's approval would need to be given before any business or telephone records could be collected on a US resident.
The creation of the act stems from the bulk collection of telephone records by the NSA which were brought to light by former NSA employee Edward Snowden in 2013. The act was introduced to the House by the main author of the 2001 Patriot Act, Representative Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI), and cosponsored by 149 members of Congress. In a rare display of bipartisanship, similar language to reforms proposed by President Obama are contained within the act.
Parts of the Patriot Act and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act are targeted by the USA Freedom Act, to bring an end to the mass-collection practice and put the records back into the hands of individual carriers. Carriers would then be required to hold them for 18 months, under current guidance from the FCC. However, the USA Freedom Act didn't make it to the floor without compromise.
A provision in the act that called for a ban on back-door searches was removed before the bill went to committee for mark up. Without this provision, information could still be obtained by looking up communications through foreign channels to find them in another manner. Other aspects removed include transparency issues on national security letters and data collection.
Representative Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) attempted to reinstate some of these provisions in an amendment, along with other pieces which would have appeased privacy concerns by making language more specific and searches more difficult. However, the amendment wasn't approved. Representative Linda DelBene (D-WA) was able to have an amendment approved which improved the language on reporting search transparency for requests to telecommunications companies.
Currently, a bill similar to the USA Freedom Act is being deliberated by the Senate Judiciary Committee. The approval of the bill also comes in before the House Intelligence Committee weights in with the similar FISA Transparency and Modernization Act.