House Votes For USA Freedom Act By Overwhelming Margin; Now Up To The Senate

from the baby-steps dept

Showing that Congress realizes that at least something needs to be done to reform the surveillance state, the House voted overwhelmingly for the USA Freedom Act today, 338 to 88 (a significantly higher margin than when they approved last year's -- much weaker -- bill). Now, the big question is what will the Senate do? It can try to push forward with Mitch McConnell's preferred plan of just re-upping Section 215 for another few years with no changes and no restrictions. It can pass basically the same USA Freedom Act. Or, it can pass an even stronger surveillance reform bill. Chances are that it will pass the same bill that the House just passed -- but many are pushing for a stronger bill.

Senator Ron Wyden has said that he's looking to strengthen the Senate version, in particular trying to end backdoor searches under Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act:
“I am working with Senate colleagues to pass additional reforms, particularly ending the warrantless backdoor searches of Americans' personal electronic communications under Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. And I have made it clear I will fight any effort to extend mass surveillance of Americans’ records through a straight renewal of the Patriot Act – even a short-term one.

“Supporters of dragnet surveillance are fighting to preserve the status quo, but the American public is rightfully demanding a change. It is time for mass surveillance to end, and I will filibuster any attempt to extend this illegal surveillance, which violates core American rights without making our country any safer.
Meanwhile, Rep. Zoe Lofgren expressed similar concerns in the floor debate before the passage of the bill, noting that it could have been better. She voted for it, but hoped that her colleagues in the Senate would fix things like the backdoor loophole. As she noted, it's an important step forward, but it did not go far enough:
"The USA FREEDOM Act makes meaningful reforms to a few of our nation's surveillance programs. I applaud the bill's authors who worked to make sure these improvements were included.

"But this bill does not end all of the warrantless bulk collection of US persons' communications and data. While the legislation does not create these privacy violations, it fails to address widely reported privacy violations that occur under Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act and Executive Order 12333.

"The House voted last year to close these backdoor forms of warrantless bulk surveillance by an overwhelming margin of 293-123. Reformers were blocked by Leadership and the Rules Committee from considering those much needed improvements to this bill today.

"Continuing these backdoor surveillance programs is wrong, detrimental to our economy, our competitiveness abroad, and the public's trust. It's time to end these serious privacy violations so that our government adheres to the constitution and protects electronic privacy.

"This bill is an improvement over the status quo. During Committee consideration the Judiciary Chairman and others assured reformers that once this bill passed we will quickly address backdoor surveillance loopholes under Section 702 and Executive Order 12333. If these commitments are not kept, reformers will reconsider their support for this legislation when it returns to the House from the Senate."
Again, this bill is a step forward, and the very fact that this debate is happening at all is a sign of how much impact the Snowden leaks have legitimately had on this debate. But, as most people recognize, there is still much to be done -- and the first part of that should happen over the next week in the Senate.
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Filed Under: backdoor searches, bulk collection, congress, ed snowden, mass surveillance, nsa, ron wyden, section 215, section 702, senate, usa freedom act, zoe lofgren

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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 May 2015 @ 9:13pm

    Take note of who our allies are.

    We need to pay attention to the role calls on bills like these and the TPP fasttrack and email them. Then when it's time to vote remember who represeted the people and who represented other interests.

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

  • icon
    OldGeezer (profile), 13 May 2015 @ 11:12pm

    Does this really matter? If the leadership in congress doesn't kill this bill or at least strip it down like the last one the president will veto it. Even if it does get through it will not change anything. This country is not led by congress or the president and certainly not by the will of the citizens. Three letter agencies and big money interests hold all the power. The surveillance will continue. They will do it in secret and take extreme precautions against any more leaks. If providers don't give them data they will hack in and get it anyway.

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

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 14 May 2015 @ 3:04am

      Yes, it does indeed matter

      By forcing them to act in secret, you limit their options, making if more difficult for them to continue to attack the public and their rights. Even if they ignore the laws(which they do), or find some 'judges' in a 'court' to give them exceptions(which they also do), they're still more limited when those laws are in place, than if they aren't.

      The public, or even those that are meant to represent them, may not be able to stop the spy agencies and others that see the public as enemies or tools, but we can at least do what we can to make them work for it, make it just that little bit more difficult for them to screw over the public and our rights in their hunger for more power and control.

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

      • icon
        tqk (profile), 14 May 2015 @ 6:53am

        Re: Yes, it does indeed matter

        The public, or even those that are meant to represent them, may not be able to stop the spy agencies and others that see the public as enemies or tools, but we can at least do what we can to make them work for it ...

        Freedom is not a 9-5, Mon. - Fri. job. Eternal vigilance is all that keeps tyranny away.

        I would sincerely beg you Murricans to stop exporting your exceptionalist !@#$. When even your Congress is beginning to get a clue, Canada's just rolling out its C-51! You need to do better keeping your !@#holes in line!

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

  • icon
    soillodge (profile), 14 May 2015 @ 4:45am

    It is not all doom & gloom

    Keep in mind that on May 20, it will have been 2 years since the Snowden revelations, and since then we have had more leaks from various sources, not less. So apparently there "extreme precautions", are not working. The scare tactics they use are less effective in the full light of day, and anything we can do to push them further into the corners helps us maintain, or regain, our freedom and privacy.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 14 May 2015 @ 6:00am

    lets just wait for Obama to publicly say if he supports it or is against it.

    That way we know he will do the opposite of whatever he tells the public

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

  • icon
    Rob McMillin (profile), 14 May 2015 @ 7:51am

    Justin Amash disagrees, and it's important

    Usually Techdirt is on top of these matters, but Justin Amash's at-length response to the news that the USAFA passed the House is worth reading in its entirety:

    Today, I will vote no on ‪#‎HR3361‬, the ‪#‎USAFREEDOMAct‬.

    I am an original cosponsor of the Freedom Act, and I was involved in its drafting. At its best, the Freedom Act would have reined in the government's unconstitutional domestic spying programs, ended the indiscriminate collection of Americans' private records, and made the secret FISA court function more like a real court—with real arguments and real adversaries.

    I was and am proud of the work our group, led by Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, did to promote this legislation, as originally drafted.

    However, the revised bill that makes its way to the House floor this morning doesn't look much like the Freedom Act.

    This morning's bill maintains and codifies a large-scale, unconstitutional domestic spying program. It claims to end "bulk collection" of Americans' data only in a very technical sense: The bill prohibits the government from, for example, ordering a telephone company to turn over all its call records every day.

    But the bill was so weakened in behind-the-scenes negotiations over the last week that the government still can order—without probable cause—a telephone company to turn over all call records for "area code 616" or for "phone calls made east of the Mississippi." The bill green-lights the government's massive data collection activities that sweep up Americans' records in violation of the Fourth Amendment.

    The bill does include a few modest improvements to current law. The secret FISA court that approves government surveillance must publish its most significant opinions so that Americans can have some idea of what surveillance the government is doing. The bill authorizes (but does not require) the FISA court to appoint lawyers to argue for Americans' privacy rights, whereas the court now only hears from one side before ruling.

    But while the original version of the Freedom Act allowed Sec. 215 of the Patriot Act to expire in June 2015, this morning's bill extends the life of that controversial section for more than two years, through 2017.

    I thank Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte for pursuing surveillance reform. I respect Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner and Rep. John Conyers for their work on this issue.

    It's shameful that the president of the United States, the chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, and the leaders of the country's surveillance agencies refuse to accept consensus reforms that will keep our country safe while upholding the Constitution. And it mocks our system of government that they worked to gut key provisions of the Freedom Act behind closed doors.

    The American people demand that the Constitution be respected, that our rights and liberties be secured, and that the government stay out of our private lives. Fortunately, there is a growing group of representatives on both sides of the aisle who get it. In the 10 months since I proposed the Amash Amendment to end mass surveillance, we've made big gains.

    We will succeed.

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

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