Updated: Amended USA FREEDOM Act passes out of House Judiciary Committee and House Intelligence

Today, the USA FREEDOM Act, in an amended form, passed out of the House Judiciary Committee by a unanimous vote of 32-0 (7 not voting).  Among several legislative proposals to reform the NSA currently discussed by U.S. Congress, Access believes there is only one that will meaningfully change foreign intelligence surveillance: the USA FREEDOM Act.

While the Bill in its current form is less robust than it was in its original form, our analysis demonstrates that it is still the strongest initial step toward a longer pathway to wholistic reform. Access has conditionally endorsed this bill and urged its passage.

Prior to the mark-up, Access sent a letter to all Committee members demanding four changes to the Bill:

1. Greater authority for the FISA Court to ensure that surveillance applications meet the legal standard;
2. Limits on Section 702 surveillance for collection of information on non-U.S. persons and for accessing information on U.S. persons’ information collected incidentally;
3. Provisions to allow for granular transparency reporting for private companies to publicly publish the number of surveillance orders received from the government, and the number of individuals affected; and
4. A stronger FISA Court special advocate to provide dissenting views against the government in certain applications for surveillance.

“The current version of the USA FREEDOM Act does not address all the necessary surveillance reforms needed to comply with international human rights obligations, but does include important changes that should be codified as quickly as possible”, says Amie Stepanovich, Senior Policy Counsel with Access.

Several amendments to the new bill were proposed during the mark-up. One amendment, introduced by Rep. Delbene, was agreed to by the Committee. The amendment responded to Access’ call for greater transparency reporting, though provided only for broad reporting ranges instead of the more nuanced numbers we called for.

Representative Lofgren offered many amendments, all of which failed in Committee. These included amendments to omit “foreign affairs” from the definition of “foreign intelligence information,” to close the back door on warrantless access to information on U.S. persons collected under Section 702, and to prevent any selector from being used to target or collect communications when a target of surveillance is not party to the communication. Representative Lofgren promised to continue to fight for these protections, a move Access applauds.

“The prohibition of bulk collection is a strong first step toward meaningful reform of U.S. foreign intelligence activities,” said Amie Stepanovich. “The road is long, and Access will continue to push for greater rights for all internet users to be free from suspicionless surveillance, both in the U.S. and around the world. No government is justified in treating the internet like a digital panopticon.”

UPDATE: On Thursday, May 8, the same bill that was passed out of the House Judiciary committee also passed unanimously out of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. Access now calls on Speaker Boehner to immediately bring the bill to the Floor of the House of Representatives for a vote