House reaches deal on bill to end NSA phone collection

1 May 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Bill would end NSA’s collection of phone records.

The NSA’s phone-snooping program is likely on its last legs after a key House committee voted overwhelmingly Thursday to end the Patriot Act’s bulk-collection powers that the government was relying on to keep the phone program up and running.A House committee advanced major legislation Thursday that would effectively end the National Security Agency’s bulk vacuuming of American phone records, a lurch forward for surveillance reform that comes as key spying authorities are a month away from expiring.A bipartisan team introduced the “Uniting and Strengthening America by Fulfilling Rights and Ensuring Effective Discipline Over Monitoring Act of 2015,” or “USA FREEDOM Act of 2015,” (pdf), this week as Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act, which gives the government authority for the collection, nears expiration on June 1.

While just a first step, the vote signaled that the Patriot Act has lost support in the two years since former government contractor Edward Snowden exposed the phone-snooping program. What that means is that if the bill passes, the NSA won’t be able to scoop up data en masse from telecom companies like it did before; instead, it would be required to request data using keywords. The Senate leader is fast-tracking the legislation, meaning it will bypass committee review and go directly onto the Senate calendar.” The anti-privacy, pro-panopticon defense hawks in the GOP are in favor of the extension, naturally. Mike Lee (R-Utah), said in a statement. “Our bill will definitively end the NSA’s bulk collection under Section 215.” “It is imperative that we reform these programs to protect Americans’ privacy while at the same time protecting our national security,” said cosponsoring Reps. Many of the bill’s backers privately concede it is unlikely that Congress will adopt stringent limitations to the NSA’s spying apparatus if an agreement is not worked out before that fast-approaching deadline.

Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) and John Conyers (D-Mich.) in a joint statement. “It enhances civil liberties protections, increases transparency for both American businesses and the government, ends the bulk collection of data, and provides national security officials targeted tools to keep America safe from foreign enemies.” “The supporters of dragnet surveillance are going to fight hard to preserve the status quo, but the American public is rightfully demanding a change,” Sen. But House leadership has indicated that the Freedom Act has its support, and it may earn a floor vote when the chamber reconvenes after next week. “Of course it’s not everything I’d want, but I think it’s a solid agreement that basically passed the House last year,” House Speaker John Boehner said Thursday during a press conference. And with its patriotic name engineered to garner bipartisan support, USA Freedom is getting pushed as a way to curb government oversteps, with support across the aisle and from big tech companies like Google and Facebook. The transparency group takes issue with the provision calling for a representative at the surveillance court. “The real argument should be about whether any secret court should exist in America – especially one that can privately redefine what the law itself means,” the Foundation said. “Also … the amicus curiae (or special advocate, as the Senate bill last year called it) is blindfolded. Under the NSA program that has become the focus of the debate, the government collects and stores five years’ worth of records recording the numbers, times and durations of phone calls made within the U.S.

A key obstacle remains in the upper chamber, as Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley has said he cannot support the bill until he has further discussions with members of the Senate Intelligence Committee. Federal officials insist they only store the data and don’t peruse it unless they have a specific reason to believe a number is relevant to a terrorism investigation. Nothing in this section shall be construed to require the Government to provide information to an amicus curiae appointed by the court that is privileged from disclosure.”

But civil libertarians say collecting and holding the data in the first place is an abuse, and point to the conclusions of several reviews that say the information hasn’t been relevant in stopping terrorist plots. That clean authorization is cosponsored by Senate Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr, who has said it is meant to be a starting point more than a final deal. It expands surveillance of foreign nationals coming in and out of the country, and increases penalties for people caught providing “material support” to terrorists. The Center for Democracy and Technology endorses the bill, but it points out that it doesn’t limit data retention for information collected on people who turn out to have no connection to a suspect or target, and emphasizes that this is not an omnibus solution. Chiefly, it would end the government’s dragnet collection of U.S. phone records, the first and most controversial of the spying programs exposed nearly two years ago by Edward Snowden, a former NSA contractor currently living in Russia under asylum.

It would instead allow NSA analysts to ask for call metadata—the numbers, time stamps, and duration of a call but not its content—from phone companies on an as-needed basis after obtaining judicial approval. It would also allow U.S. tech firms like Facebook, Google, and Twitter to disclose more information about government data requests made via the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, and give these companies more leeway in how they can respond to national security orders. His bill disregards any need for intelligence community reform, to the point where it almost seems like he doesn’t care about public opinion (or, obviously, letting people get spied on). This process would also give the American people an opportunity to fully understand exactly what each section of each bill would supposedly accomplish.

The American Civil Liberties Union and other groups, however, are not offering their blessings, instead advocating a complete sunset of the Section 215 authorities. That is partly due to several national security concessions not directly related to mass phone surveillance made to cajole both the House and Senate intelligence committees to be more palatable to the package, such as a provision to increase the maximum penalty for those who offer material support to terrorism from 15 to 20 years. The Amash amendment lost by a mere handful of votes, and I believe he would have won if misinformation about his amendment had not been published on the eve of the vote.

Yet better alternatives, like the Surveillance State Repeal Act, have no real chance of garnering support in Congress precisely because they are so much more comprehensive that they will invariably alienate the intelligence community. John Conyers, the Judiciary panel’s top Democrat. “We negotiated this bill in good faith.” Privacy advocates were particularly dismayed to see an amendment shot down that had been offered by Republican Rep.

Ted Poe of Texas; this measure would have closed the so-called “backdoor search loophole” that allows government spies to access communications content belonging to U.S. persons that is sent to foreigners or stored overseas without a warrant in some cases. Sadly, despite my legislative victory, congressional leadership refused to include the amendment language in the final version of last year’s government spending bill. The votes on both the Amash and Massie amendments demonstrate that there is overwhelming support for ending mass surveillance, despite what the establishment in both Congress and our federal intelligence agencies claim.

House of Representatives should matter,” she said. “It astounds me that you have a vote of the full House on this direct question, and somehow that is without merit or consideration. I find it hard to accept that.” The back-and-forth debate over the amendment lasted nearly an hour, and at one point involved lawmakers asking panel leadership precisely who, exactly, was urging that it be shot down. “Everyone who’s spoken against it is actually for the amendment,” Republican Rep.

A separate version of the Freedom Act—generally considered stronger on civil liberties than what the House Judiciary Committee passed Thursday—came two votes short of clearing the 60-vote threshold needed to advance through the Senate six months ago.

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