Senate Likely to Vote on NSA-Reforming USA FREEDOM Act

USA FREEDOM Act

The Senate will vote on the USA Freedom Act, a bill aimed at limiting the NSA surveillance and spying dragnet, in this lame-duck session of Congress.

The United States Senate will move to vote on the USA FREEDOM Act before the current congressional session closes at the end of the year, a move that pleases digital rights groups.

In its current form, the bill would ban the bulk collection of Americans’ private records while granting the intelligence community  the authority to perform more targeted data collection. It would also expand government and company transparency reporting to the public, reform the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court process,  bring Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act and National Security Letter nondisclosure orders into compliance with the First Amendment, impose new privacy protections for FISA pen registers and trap and trace orders, prohibit the use of unlawfully obtained information under Section 702 of FISA, and extend the June 2015 USA PATRIOT Act sunset date to December 2017.

A press release on the website of Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) – one of the bill’s sponsors and the current chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee – urges the senior legislative body to support the bill.

The apparent rush to get the USA FREEDOM Act passed could relate to the hard reality that if the bill does not make it through this Senate, then it may never become law.  Currently, the Senate is controlled by the Democratic party, which has been more enthusiastic about national security investigation reforms, but starting next year, the Republicans take over. You can see evidence of this political reality when you compare the Democrat-controlled Senate version of the bill to the Republican-controlled House version of the bill.

“The American people are wondering whether Congress can get anything done,” Leahy said Wednesday night, after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) filed the first procedural motion for the Senate to consider the bill.  “The answer is yes.  Congress can and should take up and pass the bipartisan USA FREEDOM Act, without delay.”

The Electronic Frontier Foundation reluctantly endorsed the Senate’s USA Freedom Act in August, calling it a “vast improvement over the version of the bill that passed out of the House.” For the EFF though, the original version of the bill, which they described as a strong first step toward curtailing NSA surveillance, was the best version. In the months that followed its October 2013 emergence, the USA FREEDOM Act has been significantly watered down in the name of political compromise. Its dilution has been particularly noticeable in the House version.

“The USA FREEDOM Act is a good first step towards successful surveillance reform,” the EFF wrote yesterday. “It will limit the NSA’s program collecting Americans’ calling records, introduce a special advocate into the secretive court overseeing the spying, and introduce much needed transparency requirements. While this bill is not a comprehensive solution to overbroad and unconstitutional surveillance, EFF urges the Senate to pass the bill without any amendments that will weaken it.”

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