Senate Made History Today with Final Passage of USA FREEDOM Act

OTI Celebrates First Major Victory in Battle for Surveillance Reform

WASHINGTON, DC — Tonight, the Senate took a historic step for Americans’ privacy and civil liberties and passed the USA FREEDOM Act (H.R. 2048) by a vote of 67 to 32. The bill, which was approved by the House last month, now will go to the President’s desk to be signed into law. New America’s Open Technology Institute has strongly supported the USA FREEDOM Act over the past two years as a critical first step toward comprehensive surveillance reform.

USA FREEDOM will not only end the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of Americans’ phone records under Patriot Act Section 215, first revealed by Edward Snowden two years ago this week, but will also prohibit similarly indiscriminate collection of any type of record under a variety of other legal authorities. Additionally, it will significantly improve public and congressional oversight of the government’s surveillance authorities by establishing a range of new transparency and accountability measures.

OTI wants to thank the bill’s sponsors and champions, Senators Leahy and Lee, House Judiciary Chairman Goodlatte, and Representatives Sensenbrenner and Conyers, as well as the dozens of bipartisan co-sponsors who staunchly fought over the past two years to ensure that the reforms that will be enacted into law tonight are meaningful and effective. We also thank the members who opposed and successfully beat back amendments to the bill offered by Senator McConnell. Those amendments, which OTI strongly opposed, would have served only to unnecessarily weaken USA FREEDOM’s protections, and undermine and delay the implementation of its reforms.

OTI also voices its appreciation for the unprecedentedly broad coalition of privacy advocates, Internet companies and more who made this victory possible, including those groups that continued up until the very end to push for an even stronger bill.

The following statement can be attributed to Kevin Bankston, Policy Director at New America’s Open Technology Institute:

“It took two long years of intense debate and negotiation, but Congress has finally put a stake in the heart of the NSA’s program to collect the phone records of millions of innocent Americans. Although USA FREEDOM is a compromise bill that doesn’t include every reform that will ultimately be necessary to rein in mass surveillance, it is a historic victory for privacy rights and the first step on the long road to comprehensive reform. Without a doubt, this is the strongest new regulation of America’s intelligence agencies since the spying scandals of the 70s, and it is the result of a broad bipartisan majority of Congress responding to the average American’s clear demand: do not spy on us.”

“The end of bulk collection under the USA PATRIOT Act is just the beginning – not the end – of reform. We will need to be vigilant to ensure that the reforms in USA FREEDOM are implemented faithfully, using the transparency and accountability tools created by the bill to make sure that the new bans on bulk collection are working. Congress must also quickly turn its attention to the important work of ending mass surveillance and warrantless searches of Americans’ online activities under Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act. Chairman Goodlatte has promised that the House Judiciary Committee would hold hearings on Section 702 reforms, and I hope that he will build off of the momentum that has been growing over the last two years, and that culminated in the Senate today, and waste no time in scheduling that hearing.”

“I cannot express just how grateful we at the Open Technology Institute are for the hard work of the USA FREEDOM Act’s sponsors and their tireless staff, and how proud we are to have been a part of the coalition that helped make the bill’s passage possible. We can only hope that today’s historic victory is just the first of many as we work toward a world without mass surveillance. Ultimately, we are not just fighting over this or that surveillance program--we are fighting for the soul of the 21st century, to ensure that modern communications technologies remain a tool of liberation rather than of oppression. That is a fight that will not be ending any time soon.”

Author:

Kevin Bankston is the director of New America’s Open Technology Institute, where he works in the public interest to ensure that all communities have equitable access to an internet that is both open and secure. He previously served as OTI's policy director.