USA Freedom Act Passes Out Of House Judiciary Committee With Some Good And Some Bad
from the it's-meh-all-around dept
As expected, the USA Freedom Act has been passed out of the House Judiciary Committee today, moving the bill forward in a process that will likely bring some version of it to the House floor in the next few weeks. The markup include a variety of amendments, some dopier than others. One generally good amendment was added, bringing back the transparency provisions for tech companies to reveal some information about government requests they receive. Unfortunately, this wasn’t as strong as it should be, keeping very wide “bands” under which the tech companies have to obfuscate how many requests they actually receive and how many users are impacted. There was some push to tighten the bands, and that is likely to continue, but it’s unlikely to change. Late yesterday, the manager’s amendment also added an important definition for “specific selection term” — which if left totally undefined would easily lead to abuse. The definition is… not great. It can still be abused, but not as readily as when there was no definition.
The other major problem is that this new version strips out the attempt to close the loophole that allowed backdoor searches on Americans without a warrant. This is a big deal as the original version would have closed that loophole. The NSA apparently lobbied hard to remove it, and when Rep. Zoe Lofgren tried to amend this new version to bring back the ban, it was rejected quickly. In other words, the NSA (who has pretended this is no big deal) likely uses this “loophole” quite a bit and doesn’t want to lose it.
That said, the bill is clearly a step forward, and both EFF and CDT have cautiously praised the House Judiciary Committee for moving forward on the bill, while still asking for more civil liberties protections and greater transparency.
The real question, though, is what will the House Intelligence Committee do with the bill tomorrow. As we noted earlier today, after fighting it for months, Rep. Mike Rogers has now indicated he’s more comfortable with the (weakened) bill, and will be doing a dual markup of both his own bill and this new USA Freedom Act, leading many to suspect that some sort of deal has been reached to effectively incorporate parts of his (bad) bill into this USA Freedom Act — potentially weakening it even further. We’ll find out in a few hours.