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Advocacy Groups Push Senate Version Of USA Freedom Act

More than three dozen civil liberty groups are urging House and Senate leadership to pass a new Senate version of the USA Freedom Act ( S. 2685), and without any amendments that would weaken it.

The bill is meant to rein in the kind of bulk data collection by government agencies exposed by leaker Edward Snowden.

The groups had serious concerns about the House-passed version of the bill and say many of those have been addressed in the Senate version introduced this week by Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.).

One of the big differences between the bills, they say is that it "significantly narrows" the definition of specific selection terms used for obtaining records, including prohibiting collection based on broad geographic regions or particular Internet or phone services.

Another is that the bill does not include a mandatory data retention regime—requiring Internet and phone companies to keep records any longer than they would in the course of normal business. "We strongly oppose any such requirement, as it would threaten privacy and civil liberties, impose unnecessary economic burdens on companies, and create risks to data security," they said.

They also point to stronger privacy protections and transparency reporting in the Senate version, including "locking in" a deal between Justice and Internet companies about how they publish info about the demands they receive.

They point out that the Senate bill provides some new options for reporting those government information requests, including one that allows them to report annually on national security requests "in ranges of 100," the narrowest option, and another that "allows companies to be more granular in their reporting about specific surveillance authorities."

Since the Senate version now differs from the House-passed bill, if it passes in this form in the Senate it must either be re-voted in the House or a new compromise bill worked out in conference that both Houses of Congress then vote on again.

Among those signing on to the letter were the ACLU, Public Knowledge, Free Press Action Fund, and TechFreedom.

To check out just what the groups like about the new bill, click here.