Time for the Senate to pass the USA FREEDOM Act

This week the Senate is expected to vote on the USA FREEDOM Act, a bill that would end one of the worst abuses of the NSA’s surveillance authority. Access urges the Senate to protect privacy and pass the bill.

Washington, D.C. – The Senate could soon vote on the USA FREEDOM Act, a bill that, in its current form, would end the controversial “bulk telephony metadata” program, operated under Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act.

While imperfect, this bill contains strong privacy protections. Brokered by Senator Patrick Leahy, the current version is backed by dozens of civil society organizations, privacy experts, and members of the intelligence community, and has garnered the support of 18 co-sponsors from both parties.

“In June 2013, the first of the Snowden revelations provided an initial glimpse of the true scope and magnitude of United States surveillance operations and the steps needed to reform them,” said Access Senior Policy Counsel Amie Stepanovich. “Now, Congress has the chance to end some of the worst of the NSA’s abuses. It must not shirk its responsibility to protect our privacy.”

If the USA FREEDOM Act is not passed now, the surveillance program will be renewed once again in December and individuals will be subject to further privacy invasions by the NSA.

In addition to the prevention of bulk metadata collection under Section 215, the bill would also limit the amount of incidental data collection that may occur, and would modestly increase transparency requirements.

Earlier this year the House passed a weaker version of the USA FREEDOM Act, which introduced ambiguities that could be read in favor of broad authority for intelligence agencies.

“If a strong USA FREEDOM Act isn’t passed this week, the next Congress could pass a bill with fewer protections and even greater authority for the intelligence agencies — a terrible fate for our privacy,” Stepanovich continued. “We cannot wait any longer. Now is the time for the Senate to act.” 

There is still the possibility that senators could offer amendments to weaken the bill. Access would oppose any efforts to water down the bill’s current protections, or to try to tack on rights-invasive legislation, like the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act (CISA), which we have previously asked President Obama to pledge to veto. Alternatively, Access supports amendments to further protect privacy, such as a prohibition on government requests for back doors or vulnerabilities in technologies.