As we feared
would happen, the House, under pressure from the White House, has completely watered down the USA FREEDOM Act. After a long (and, we've heard, contentious) battle among the different players, the bill that's moving to the floor tomorrow is even less useful than the already weakened version that passed
out of both the House Judiciary and Intelligence Committees. Following the revelation of the new version of the bill late Tuesday, basically every civil liberties organization pulled their support for the bill.
- EFF: Since the introduction of the USA FREEDOM Act, a bill that has over 140 cosponsors, Congress has been clear about its intent: ending the mass collection of Americans' calling records. Many members of Congress, the President's own review group on NSA activities, and the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board all agree that the use of Section 215 to collect Americans' calling records must stop. Earlier today, House Leadership reached an agreement to amend the bipartisan USA FREEDOM Act in ways that severely weaken the bill, potentially allowing bulk surveillance of records to continue. The Electronic Frontier Foundation cannot support a bill that doesn't achieve the goal of ending mass spying. We urge Congress to support uncompromising NSA reform and we look forward to working on the Senate's bipartisan version of the USA FREEDOM Act.
- CDT: Today, the Leadership of the House of Representatives gave the green light to an
amendment to the USA FREEDOM Act that would significantly weaken the bill's ban on the government's bulk collection of data, despite the broader consensus that bulk collection must end. The Center for Democracy & Technology (CDT) and other civil liberties groups long supported the USA FREEDOM Act, but have withdrawn their support for the House version of the bill.
"This legislation was designed to prohibit bulk collection, but has been made so weak that it fails to adequately protect against mass, untargeted collection of Americans' private information. The bill now offers only mild reform and goes against the overwhelming support for definitively ending bulk collection," said CDT President and CEO Nuala O'Connor.
- Open Technology Institute: "House leaders should have allowed a vote on the compromise version of the USA FREEDOM Act that was already agreed to, rather than undermining their own members and caving in to the intelligence community's demands. We recognize the need for the USA FREEDOM Act to move forward now, in order to avoid a worse bill or no bill at all. However, we cannot in good conscience support this weakened version of the bill, where key reforms -- especially those intended to end bulk collection and increase transparency -- have been substantially watered down. We're gravely disappointed that rather than respecting the wishes of the unanimous Judiciary and Intelligence Committees, the House leadership and the Obama Administration have chosen to disrupt the hard-fought compromise that so many of us were willing to support just two weeks ago.
"The original USA FREEDOM Act was a great leap forward on surveillance reform, and the compromise version of two weeks ago was still a big step forward, but today's version is merely leaning in the right direction. Much of what has been weakened in the House version of USA FREEDOM will have to be restored in the Senate before the privacy and civil liberties community will be willing to support this bill again."
- Access: Today, the U.S. House of Representatives' Rules Committee reported a dramatically different version of the USA FREEDOM Act meant to reform NSA surveillance activities than what was unanimously approved by both the House Judiciary and Intelligence Committees two weeks ago.
Yesterday, Access expressed its concern after learning that House leaders and Obama administration met over the weekend to negotiate the bill and commented, "The version we fear could now be negotiated in secret and introduced on the House floor may not move us forward on NSA reform."
"It's greatly disappointing to witness House leaders succumb to the pressure applied by the Obama administration and others, turning its back on the compromise version of USA Freedom that so many supported just two weeks ago. The USA FREEDOM Act had previously passed through two committees before being secretly watered down behind closed doors. Access is forced to withdraw our support of the USA FREEDOM Act," said Amie Stepanovich, Senior Policy Counsel at Access.
This is unfortunate on many, many levels. I know many who are more cynical will suggest that this was the inevitable end to the process, but that's not true. A much stronger bill had the opportunity to move forward, but the White House -- despite President Obama's own promises
-- put pressure on the House to change the bill and significantly weaken it. Basically, the White House has now made it clear that for all its talk about respecting the constitution and civil liberties, when it comes time to actually show real leadership, it won't do it, and instead will back efforts that make a mockery of basic civil liberties.