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USA Freedom Draws Crowd

Industry and advocacy groups were generally pleased with the passage of the USA Freedom Act Tuesday, though for many it was viewed as a step in an ongoing process.

For example, New America's Open Technology Institute (OTI) called it the first major victory in an ongoing battle for surveillance reform.

“The end of bulk collection under the USA PATRIOT Act is just the beginning – not the end – of reform," said OTI policy director Kevin Bankston. "We will need to be vigilant to ensure that the reforms in USA FREEDOM are implemented faithfully, using the transparency and accountability tools created by the bill to make sure that the new bans on bulk collection are working. Congress must also quickly turn its attention to the important work of ending mass surveillance and warrantless searches of Americans’ online activities under Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act."

"Today’s vote is a tangible victory for citizens around the world, and a step toward restoring trust in the U.S. government and the ability of lawmakers to do what is right in the face of tremendous political pressure," said Computer & Communications Industry Association president Ed Black. "It also begins the process of rebuilding the confidence of Internet users worldwide in American providers of digital services.

“The USA Freedom Act is not a complete panacea, and serves only as the first step in what will prove to be a lengthy and difficult process to reform the mass surveillance programs in use by the U.S. government. However, it does much to end the bulk collection of Americans' data across a number of authorities, provides for significant privacy reporting by the private sector, the intelligence community, and secret FISA court, and should lead to improved oversight of surveillance programs by our citizens."

The bill sets a six-month transition for the reforms, so in the interim the bulk collection will continue.

Tech Freedom say it is a big win and an end to "all" bulk collection of phone records. “By passing the USA FREEDOM Act, the Senate has restored legitimate intelligence capabilities while putting an end to needless domestic dragnet data collection,” said Berin Szoka, president of TechFreedom. “While the Section 215 sunset was a symbolic victory for privacy, it would have allowed bulk collection to continue under other authorities, such as the FISA pen/trap statute and National Security Letters.”

Software makers were celebrating.

“This is a tremendous accomplishment and an important day for the U.S. technology industry," Software and Information Industry Association (SIIA) VP for public policy Mark MacCarthy said. "This legislation will both safeguard our country and ensure that individual privacy protections are upheld. For more than two years, SIIA and other tech leaders have called for reform of the U.S. surveillance system as an essential part of ensuring America’s continued economic leadership. Because it will restore international trust in American businesses, sensible surveillance reform is not only a security issue, but is also an important economic concern.

The ACLU was celebrating, if only a partial victory.

“The passage of the USA Freedom Act is a milestone. This is the most important surveillance reform bill since 1978, and its passage is an indication that Americans are no longer willing to give the intelligence agencies a blank check," said ACLU deputy legal director Jameel Jaffer. "It’s a testament to the significance of the Snowden disclosures and also to the hard work of many principled legislators on both sides of the aisle.

"Still, no one should mistake this bill for comprehensive reform. The bill leaves many of the government’s most intrusive and overbroad surveillance powers untouched, and it makes only very modest adjustments to disclosure and transparency requirements."

But not everyone was applauding.

Tough Patriot Act critic CREDO Mobile saw it a lot differently. “The Senate just voted to create sweeping new authorities for the government to conduct unconstitutional mass surveillance of Americans," it said in a statement. "From now on, every time the government violates our privacy without a warrant by sweeping up highly-sensitive medical, educational, financial, email and telephone records, the responsibility will rest squarely on the shoulders of the senators who voted today to re-create expired PATRIOT Act authorities.”

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.