The USA Freedom Act, a bipartisan bill aimed at reforming the US Patriot Act that would among other things end kind of bulk data collection Edward Snowden revealed two years ago, passed the House or Representatives by a wide margin this week. The move may be welcome news to both telcos and cloud service providers alike, many of which lobbied hard for US surveillance reform.
The bill, which passed in a 328 for – 88 against vote, ends the bulk collection of communications metadata under various legal authorities, and not only includes telephony metadata collected under Section 215 but internet metadata that has been or could be collected under other legal authorities as well.
It will also allow companies to be more transparent with the demands being placed on them by legal authorities, and will create new oversight and accountability mechanisms that will shed more light on the decisions reached by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), which has so far operated in a deeply secretive manner and with little interference.
“This bill is an extremely well-drafted compromise—the product of nearly two years of work. It effectively protects Americans’ civil liberties and our national security. I am very proud of the USA Freedom Act and am confident it is the most responsible path forward,” said Jim Sensenbrenner, Republican Representative for Wisconsin’s fifth district.
“If the Patriot Act authorities expire, and the FISC approves bulk collection under a different authority, how would the public know? Without the USA Freedom Act, they won’t. Allowing the PATRIOT Act authorities to expire sounds like a civil libertarian victory, but it will actually mean less privacy and more risk.”
“Let’s not kill these important reforms because we wish the bill did more. There is no perfect. Every bill we vote on could do more,” he added.
Others, including Ted Lieu (D-CA), voted against the proposed reforms because the bill didn’t go far enough.
“While I appreciate a number of the reforms in the bill and understand the need for secure counter-espionage and terrorism investigations, I believe our nation is better served by allowing Section 215 to expire completely and replacing it with a measure that finds a better balance between national security interests and protecting the civil liberties of Americans,” Lieu said.
“Beyond Section 215, I am troubled that the USA Freedom Act would leave in place Sections 505 and 702, provisions that also allow sweeping data collection and backdoor searches circumventing encryption that can result in the collection of information of US citizens not identified in warrants. The loopholes left in place will continue to undermine the trust of the American people.”
“A federal district court struck down the NSA’s spying on Americans and called the NSA PRISM program ‘Orwellian.’ A federal appellate court ruled last week that the NSA’s bulk collection program was illegal. Despite these two court decisions, the NSA continues to operate its unconstitutional and illegal programs.”
Many cloud service providers and telecoms companies have for the past two years (since Snowden’s NSA-related revelations primarily) voiced concerns that failure to reform US surveillance practices could alienate customers both foreign and domestic. Microsoft and Google have been particularly vocal about this in recent months.
Google’s vice president public policy and government affairs in the Americas Susan Molinari trumpeted her support of the bill. She said the bill takes a big step forward in surveillance reform “while preserving important national security authorities.”
“It ends bulk collection of communications metadata under various legal authorities, allows companies like Google to disclose national security demands with greater granularity, and creates new accountability and oversight mechanisms.”
“The bill’s authors have worked hard to forge a bipartisan consensus, and the approved bill is supported by the Obama Administration, including the intelligence community. The bill now moves to the other side of the Capitol, and we hope that the Senate will use the June 1 expiration of Section 215 and other legal authorities to modernize and reform our surveillance programs, while recognizing the importance of protecting Americans from harm,” she added.
US-based telco Verizon declined to comment on the passage of the bill.