Overwhelming House Vote to Pass USA FREEDOM Act Sends Unequivocal Message to the Senate: Time for Surveillance Reform is Now

Press Release
May 13, 2015

Washington, DC - Today, the House of Representatives passed the USA FREEDOM Act (H.R. 2048) by a vote of 338 to 88. New America’s Open Technology Institute supports the USA FREEDOM Act as a critical first step toward reining in the National Security Agency’s overreaching mass surveillance programs, and applauds the House for passing it today with such an overwhelming show of support.

The USA FREEDOM Act would end the NSA’s indiscriminate bulk collection of Americans’ phone records under Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act, which was just held to be illegal by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, while banning similar bulk collection of any other type of record under a variety of legal authorities. It would also expand government transparency reporting and add more accountability to the processes of the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, to help ensure that the bulk collection ban is effective and to increase public and Congressional oversight of the NSA’s surveillance activities. Lastly, it would authorize companies to publicly report more information about national security requests for their customers’ data.

In addition to the broad bipartisan support in the House that was demonstrated by today’s vote, USA FREEDOM has been endorsed by the White House and the Intelligence Community, and is supported by a broad coalition of privacy and advocacy groups, trade associations, and Internet companies, including the Reform Government Surveillance coalition, which includes major tech companies like Google, Facebook, Twitter, and Apple.

The Senate is now under pressure to act on the bill next week, it’s last week of business before the June 1st deadline when Section 215 and two other PATRIOT provisions are set to expire. Instead of supporting USA FREEDOM, however, Senate leaders have introduced a bill to renew the expiring PATRIOT authorities for another five years without any reforms at all. Likely lacking the votes for such a long-term extension, Senators opposing reform have begun to suggest a short-term reauthorization to buy time to weaken the USA FREEDOM reform bill.

“Although it does not include all of the reforms that will ultimately be necessary to rein in the NSA, House passage of the USA FREEDOM Act is an important first step toward protecting Americans’ privacy, reforming our foreign intelligence laws, and restoring the consumer trust in American tech companies that has been lost in the last two years,” said Kevin Bankston, Policy Director at New America’s Open Technology Institute. “Today’s overwhelming vote in support of surveillance reform sends an unequivocal message to the Senate: a straight renewal of the PATRIOT Act without reform is off the table, whether it’s for one month or five years. There is no option for the Senate other than immediate passage of the USA FREEDOM Act, without any weakening amendments. The clock is ticking and the House has done the right thing – now it’s the Senate’s turn.

“This bill, which would definitively end the same NSA bulk surveillance program that a federal appeals court found to be illegal just last week, has the backing of major privacy and human rights groups, tech companies, the intelligence community, the White House, and now 338 members of the House of Representatives,” said Robyn Greene, Policy Counsel with New America’s Open Technology Institute. “It would be a shocking insult to the democratic process, and to the American people who have been demanding reform for two years, if the Senate’s leaders tried to force through a straight reauthorization of the USA PATRIOT Act rather than giving their members an opportunity to vote on USA FREEDOM. We are grateful to every member of the House that has fought for surveillance reform, whether by voting for USA FREEDOM or by working to make it better. Now we look to the Senate to demonstrate the same level of leadership, and pass USA FREEDOM in the coming week.”