Access Applauds House Vote on USA FREEDOM Act, Calls for Improvements in the Senate

Washington D.C. – Today, the USA FREEDOM Act of 2015 was approved by the House of Representatives by a vote of 338-88. Access welcomes the House’s passage of the bill as a step forward on the path toward meaningful surveillance reform. Access looks to the Senate to improve the bill by including additional clarity and accountability.

“We welcome the House’s passage of the USA FREEDOM Act. However, we strongly encourage members of the U.S. Senate to make their votes conditional on improving the bill, and to strongly oppose any reauthorizations — whether for one week or five years — without reform,” said Amie Stepanovich, U.S. Policy Manager at Access.

“The USA FREEDOM Act is the vehicle for reform, but it is far from perfect,” Stepanovich continued. The recent ruling in the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals provides additional leverage to achieve stronger reform than previously possible. Congress must now take bolder action in passing surveillance reform.”

Last week a three judge-panel from the 2nd Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals unanimously ruled that bulk collection of U.S. domestic telephone metadata is unlawful.

In a blog post, Access identifies four amendments which should be adopted:

  • re-inserting so-called “super minimization” procedures that place retention limits on information collected that is not related to a specific individual, account, or personal device;
  • narrowing liability protection to attach only to companies that act in good faith;
  • increasing court oversight by providing a strong mandate for the appointed court amicus curiae and requiring approval of privacy procedures; and
  • restricting the definition of “Specific Selection Term” by adding requirements that narrowly limit collection.

Some in the Senate have proposed “clean reauthorizations” of Section 215 — renewals of surveillance authorities without any reforms — in order to water down the bill’s protections or avoid changes to the authorities. Access strongly opposes any extension of expiring provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act for any period of time.

“These proposals are tone deaf and unacceptable,” added Stepanovich. “The public has voiced strong support for reform, and Congress has been considering some version of the USA FREEDOM Act for nearly 18 months. At this point, if the Senate is unable to pass an improved bill before the impending deadline, it will be abdicating its responsibilities.”