from the more-improvements,-but-a-few-worrisome-concessions dept
The USA Freedom Act is back in another attempt to rein in the NSA -- one that was sabotaged twice last year. A bill under this name was first introduced in the House, which actually passed out of committee, but only after being gutted in response to pressure from the administration. A much better version was introduced by the Senate, but this one never managed to make it out to the floor for a full vote -- held back by NSA defenders who portrayed its Section 215 reforms as somehow more damaging to privacy than an unrestrained NSA.
This House bill heads into committee with only a few weeks remaining before certain provisions of the Patriot Act are due to expire, including the Section 215 bulk records program. Sen. Mitch McConnell has done what he can to lower this bill's chance of success. Shortly before USA Freedom was to be introduced into Senate, he delivered a bill that would authorize a "no questions asked" renewal of these provisions until the end of 2019. Thanks to his position as Majority Leader, he was able to bypass the committee vote and bring it straight to the floor.
This version of USA Freedom is obviously a vast improvement over the previously-eviscerated House bill, but there are still concerns on both sides of the issue. NSA defenders will probably oppose it because it supposedly goes too far. Civil liberties defenders will oppose it because it doesn't go far enough. The ACLU has already expressed its concerns about the pending legislation.
“The disclosures of the last two years make clear that we need wholesale reform. Congress should let Section 215 sunset as it’s scheduled to, and then it should turn to reforming the other surveillance authorities that have been used to justify bulk collection,” said Jameel Jaffer, the group’s deputy legal director.What the bill does do is fix a lot of what was broken on its last trip through. The legislation would end the Section 215 bulk records collection and force the NSA to perform targeted requests for phone metadata from telcos. It would also provide an avenue to challenge the use of this data in court by adding a requirement to serve notice to those whose records were accessed. In addition, it would make National Security Letter gag orders challengeable by those companies served with one and require a "periodic review" of outstanding non-disclosure orders to ensure they're still valid.
What it doesn't do is actually end Section 215. It would end the bulk collection but "emergency" requests could still be made to circumvent the additional search restrictions USA Freedom imposes. It also preserves the NSA's ability to deploy roving wiretaps.
Sen. Ron Wyden says he's not in love with the new bill, but he'll support it.
"I obviously want it to go further, closing the backdoor search loophole and the like," the Oregon Democrat said. "But I think Sen. Leahy's effort to end the collection of all of this personal information ... are very important and I'm in support of it."Considering McConnell's last-minute maneuvering to save Section 215 from alteration or expiration, there will probably be others who will throw their support behind this bill rather than see the bulk records collection remain intact for the next half-decade. If nothing else, it's at least a step towards serious surveillance reform.