Gutted version of USA FREEDOM Act passes the House


Today, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a watered down version of the USA FREEDOM Act. Meant to reform NSA surveillance activities, the bill falls short of advancing meaningful protections for U.S. and international internet users.

In the floor debate, Representative Lofgren voiced her dissent, noting the bill may still allow bulk collection in some instances due to ambiguity, and further argued that its transparency provisions were substantially weakened. She explained that both digital rights groups and corporations have withdrawn support for the gutted proposal. Representative Sensenbrenner, the bill’s primary sponsor expressed disappointment in the actions taken to water down the bill, but said that it would be a first step toward NSA reform.

On Tuesday, Access withdrew conditional support for the USA FREEDOM Act after the House Rules Committee approved a radically different version of the bill than what was unanimously approved by both the House Judiciary and Intelligence Committees two weeks ago. While initially supportive of the USA FREEDOM Act, Access was forced to withdraw support after House leaders and the Obama administration altered core provisions of the bill.

Access Policy Director Jochai Ben-Avie said, “We’re deeply disappointed that the House approved today a watered down version of the USA FREEDOM Act which was gutted in secret by House leadership at the urging of the Obama Administration. We urge the Senate to increase the protections protecting the human rights of individuals in the U.S. and around the world that were stripped out in the House.”

The last minute changes weaken NSA reform by:

  • introducing ambiguity into the definition of the term “specific selection term,” which was key to the bill’s proposal to end bulk collection
  • removing a provision banning reverse targeting of communications of U.S. persons
  • giving the intelligence community more internal control over declassification review
  • appearing to condone the NSA’s practice of reviewing the content of international communications about targeted individuals, and
  • watering down transparency reporting permissions for communications companies and services

“This USA FREEDOM Act does not promote the transparency, accountability, and human rights protections the bill initially promised,” said Access Senior Policy Counsel Amie Stepanovich. “We hope that the U.S. Senate will take this country’s international obligations seriously. The global users of the internet demand and deserve real NSA reform. We hope the Senate won’t miss this opportunity to show greater leadership.”