USA Freedom Act Reintroduced

The USA Freedom Act, which would end the bulk collection of communications metadata by the National Security Agency, has been reintroduced in the House and Senate.

A similar bill lost steam last fall after getting some traction in both the House and Senate. The new bill is expected to be taken up by the House Judiciary Committee later this week.

The Obama administration backed the bill in the last Congress, and has taken steps to rein in bulk collection.

The bill was introduced by Senators Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), as well as Representatives Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), John Conyers (D-Mich.) and Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.).

The reintroduction was greeted with support by various stakeholders, though most said the bill was an imperfect solution to a pressing problem.

"The legal authorities found in Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act, which the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court have interpreted to allow for the bulk telephony records program, are set to expire on June 1 of this year," the Computer & Communications Industry Association pointed out in backing the bill. "The new legislation would put an end to that mass surveillance program, while preserving more narrow authorities. The bill also includes important provisions to increase transparency by permitting companies to report more statistical information about the number of demands they receive."

"While the bill is neither a perfect nor complete reform of all the NSA’s mass surveillance authorities, it significantly narrows the ability of the NSA to collect call records and offers greater transparency, which is essential for citizens in a free society," said CCIA president Ed Black.

“Ending bulk collection is the most critical privacy reform Congress needs to make, but it’s not the only one,” said Berin Szoka, president of TechFreedom. “The USA Freedom Act isn’t perfect, but it is an important first step in correcting the wild imbalance between privacy and security. It’s unfortunate that the bill stops short of creating a public advocate able to intervene in all Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) cases. But letting the FISC decide whether to allow pre-vetted amici to defend the public would be a huge improvement over today’s secretive Star Chamber.”

"Surveillance reform is an essential part of restoring international trust in U.S. businesses and ensuring America’s continued economic leadership," said the Software & Information Industry Association.

"Although the bill does not contain all of the reforms that the Open Technology Institute believes are necessary, passage of the USA FREEDOM Act of 2015 would represent an important first step in the long process of reining in the NSA’s overreaching surveillance programs," said Kevin Bankston, OTI policy director.

"Yahoo has advocated tirelessly on behalf of our users for key reforms to government surveillance, including the end of bulk data collection under FISA and increased transparency and accountability," that company said in a statement. "We are encouraged by the bipartisan introduction of the USA FREEDOM Act in both the House and the Senate today. We urge Congress to move forward with passing meaningful reform, like the measures outlined in this legislation."

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.