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Tech Groups Talk Up USA Freedom Act

Tech industry types including TechNet, the Information Technology Industry Council, and the Computer & Communications Industry Association are calling on the House to pass the USA Freedom Act, which passed the House Judiciary Committee 25 to 2.

The bill would at least limit, and some say eliminate, NSA bulk metadata collection of communications records.

In a letter to House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and minority leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the tech groups said the bill "offers an effective balance that both protects privacy and provides the necessary tools for national security," and urged its passage without "harmful amendments." They said the bill "ends the indiscriminate collection of bulk data, avoids data retention mandates, and creates a strong transparency framework for both government and private companies to report national security requests."

House leadership had signaled that if the bill did not pass out of the committee without amendments—it did—it would not get a floor vote, while on the Senate side a straight Patriot Act reauthorization has been proposed that would essentially mean the bulk collection could continue.

Some progressive groups are urging the House to stand down after a federal court ruled last week that NSA bulk collection is illegal, but with only 21 days until some parts of the Patriot Act sunset, there will either have to be a straight reauthorization, which includes the bulk collection now illegal, at least within the Second Circuit's jurisdiction, or a modified reauthorization, as the USA Freedom Act proposes.

The USA Freedom Act, which is billed as a stronger version of one that passed in the House last session but fell short in the Senate, would end bulk metadata collection by the NSA (or at least narrow it), require the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Court to make public key decisions on allowing what would be more targeted NSA surveillance, and gives the objects of surveillance requests—the telecoms with the data—more flexibility in disclosures of those data requests to the public.

The bill prevents bulk collection by narrowing the search terms and allowing searches only two "hops" from original targeted communications (as in communications from parties to a second party), rather than the current three (from second parties to a third party).

The tech companies said it was time for Congress to move. "Public trust in the technology sector is critical, and that trust has declined measurably among both U.S. citizens and citizens of our foreign allies since the [Edward Snowden] revelations regarding the U.S. surveillance programs began 2 years ago," they said. "As a result of increasing concern about the level of access the U.S. government has to user-generated data held by technology companies, many domestic and foreign users have turned to foreign technology providers while, simultaneously, foreign jurisdictions have implemented reactionary policies that threaten the fabric of the borderless internet."

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.