USA Freedom Vote Targeted for June 2

According to Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, the USA Freedom Act will be reintroduced with three amendments, the first essentially a replacement bill with two changes, plus a couple of amendments to that new bill. That will likely come on Tuesday (June 2), with Burr's hope that it can pass Tuesday afternoon.

If the amendments are agreed to, the House will have to revote the bill, which was passed without amendments in that body under the threat that any changes would have killed it.

The Patriot Act Sec. 215 bulk metadata surveillance by the NSA expired May 31, and will have to wait at least another day before being revived in a different form in the USA Freedom Act, if it passes, as most expect.

The amendments in the substitute bill would do a couple of things. One would require telecom companies to give the government six months notice of any change in their data retention policies. One key change USA Freedom makes to the Sec. 215 authority is that telecom companies, not the government, will hold the data, and are under no mandate to keep it beyond the normal business case, which is currently 18 months to two years.

A second amendment deals with how telecoms query the data when the government asks for it.

The other two amendments would 1) extend from six months to 12 months (Burr would like 24 months) the transition from the old method of the government scraping and storing the data to the telephone companies keeping it for query (subject to a court order), and 2) change the language related to filing friend of the court briefs.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said on the Senate floor that the amendments are "positive, common sense improvements" will strengthen the bill, though he would have preferred a full extension of Sec. 215. He said the bill balances security and privacy while the government works on a longer-term solution.

Sen. Burr said the Patriot Act authorities were one of the tools created after 9/11, when an inability to link cell phone calls from terrorists to other cell members was cited as an intelligence failure that needed correcting.

Burr said he hoped that the House could act and the bill could be approved by end of day Tuesday. In the meantime, the NSA bulk data cannot be queried given the sunset of the authority. He said time was of the essence so NSA could get ahead of the next potential attack. He said the amendments would not "blow up" the 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.