April 30, 2015
WASHINGTON, DC — Today, the House Judiciary Committee approved the USA FREEDOM Act of 2015 (H.R. 2048) with a vote of 25-2. OTI supports the USA FREEDOM Act, which would end the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of Americans’ telephone records currently being authorized under USA PATRIOT Act Section 215, while also banning such indiscriminate bulk collection of any type of record under a variety of other legal authorities, and significantly increasing government transparency and accountability around these authorities.
“The Committee’s vote approving the USA FREEDOM Act is an important first step to getting this crucial bill over the finish line, and represents a substantial improvement over the reform bill it approved last year,” said Kevin Bankston, Policy Director at New America’s Open Technology Institute. “While the USA FREEDOM Act would not enact every surveillance reform that is needed, it would add several important new checks on the government’s surveillance powers, and represents a necessary first step on the longer road to more comprehensive reforms. We hope that the House will swiftly and overwhelmingly pass the bill without weakening it, and that the Senate will also follow the Committee’s lead by taking up its own identical version of the bill.”
An amendment was offered during the Committee’s markup of the bill that would have added new reforms to USA FREEDOM—in particular, requiring the government to obtain a court order before searching for information about Americans in its databases of emails and phone calls collected using its mass wiretapping authority under Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act of 2008. The amendment failed when it became clear that adding that reform would have resulted in House leadership blocking the bill’s progress.
“We’re gravely disappointed that even though a majority of the House voted last year to close the loophole allowing for backdoor warrantless searches of Americans’ data, the House’s leadership and the House Intelligence Committee appear intent on blocking this crucial reform,” Bankston continued. “If we can’t get such reform now, then we will continue to fight for it after we’ve succeeded in passing USA FREEDOM, up to and including in 2017 when the FISA Amendments Act is scheduled to sunset.
“Passing USA FREEDOM is the beginning of the fight to rein in the NSA, not the end of it."
A chart comparing this year’s bill to last year’s Senate version of USA FREEDOM (S. 2685), as well as to the version of last year’s House USA FREEDOM that was unanimously approved by the House Judiciary and Intelligence Committees (H.R. 3361), can be found here.