New Version Of USA Freedom Surveillance Reform Bill To Hit The House This Week

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.

Filed Under: bulk collection, mass surveillance, nsa, patrick leahy, patriot act, privacy, ron wyden, section 215, surveillance, surveillance reform, usa freedom act


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 Apr 2015 @ 11:56am

    They should amend it to end the carrier's immunity for sharing the data, too. There's no logical reason for them to keep that immunity other than the fact that the government *wants* the carriers to overstep the boundaries of the laws.

    If they act according to the law, then they wouldn't need to fear any lawsuits. So why keep the immunity?!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 Apr 2015 @ 12:08pm

    I think the programs should go away, but at this point it would be too hard to gather the political will to do that.

    If we don't end the program, but make it so that the public can really see through court filling and transparency how many people are affected by this we will see what is really going on. We should tell the surveillance lovers that "Sure some version of this program can keep running as long as it is truly transparent and challengeable in court." Then I think we will be able to build a case as to why the program shouldn't exist that no one car really argue with.

    Again I wish everyone would see why these programs are so stupid, but we need real transparency before anyone really sees the light.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Bamboo Harvester (profile), 28 Apr 2015 @ 12:24pm

      Re:

      "Then I think we will be able to build a case as to why the program shouldn't exist that no one car really argue with."

      There is a "case". It's called the Fourth Amendment.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    DannyB (profile), 28 Apr 2015 @ 12:46pm

    Dear Senators

    You can download a copy of the US Constitution right here. But hurry! Supplies are limited. Please take care not to download too many copies or the US might no longer have a constitution.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    beltorak (profile), 28 Apr 2015 @ 1:48pm

    words words

    If the government uses the same definition chicanery for "emergency" that it does for "imminent threat", then there's plenty to worry about.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 28 Apr 2015 @ 2:09pm

      Re: words words

      Yup, there's always some excuse they can find for why the situation counts as an 'emergency', so having that as a loophole makes any other limits useless.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        DannyB (profile), 28 Apr 2015 @ 2:57pm

        Re: Re: words words

        The word imminent might be more difficult to tweak the definition of. But words like 'emergency' or 'threat' are wide open to abuse.

        But your honor, there was an imminent threat of copyright infringement which could put us into a national emergency situation.

        Or even an imminent threat of someone powerful being embarrassed by publication of the truth.

        Or an imminent threat of government wrongdoing being made public.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    cypherspace (profile), 28 Apr 2015 @ 3:49pm

    Bad Reform is Worse Than No Reform

    If a half-baked reform bill is made law, it's going to convince people wrongly that the problem is over, when at best it's just been painted over with a think veneer of reform. Check out the analysis by Marcy Wheeler - who is pretty convinced this is a gambit by Mitch McConnell.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 Apr 2015 @ 4:42pm

    why not just wait?

    In what way is this better than just letting 215 expire in June?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    R, 29 Apr 2015 @ 12:03am

    broken government compli

    McConnell will introduce ANY legislation that nothingwill and the no interferece for 10 years,,

    On the other side of this requestice, you'll get nothing.. If you listen and realize that i'm wandering around having hot dawg dor time out of my cell chamber tomorrow, April 29, i'll bring it back to your fears tomorrow.. High-Got to get you an F for you. The last two are fine for the first s.

    I MUST BE SUCH THAT GRADE FLOWS CLEARLY AND .from any grup.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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