White House to Congress: Pass USA Freedom Act

The White House Monday urged the Congress to pass the USA Freedom Act by year's end. That is the bill that revamps the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act in the wake of the Edward Snowden leaks about government bulk info collection from communications providers.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has signaled he wants to take up the bill on the Senate floor this week

In a statement of administration policy on the bill, the Executive Office of the President said the Administration "strongly supports" passage of S. 2685. A slightly different version passed the House last spring, so the House would have to approve the Senate version if it passes.

Both the attorney general and the director of national intelligence have said the bill is a reasonable compromise between the need to collect info to prevent terrorism and the need to protect privacy and civil liberties.

The Act reforms government surveillance of public communications, including by increasing transparency and public reporting. It is meant to rein in the kind of bulk data collection by government agencies exposed by leaker Edward Snowden, and would affect telco and cable companies.

The House on May 22 passed its version of the bill, which was supported by the President. It would further restrict the data collected from communications companies by the NSA and other intelligence agencies, as well as boost transparency and reporting requirements for targeted data requests, require more specificity in those requests and minimize retention and dissemination of nonpublic data.

Rather than have the government sweep and store the data, agencies would make specific requests for data the telecoms already store as part of their business.

"Without passage of this bill, critical authorities that are appropriately reformed in this legislation could expire next summer," said the White House. "The Administration urges Congress to take action on this legislation now, since delay may subject these important national security authorities to brinksmanship and uncertainty. The Administration urges the Senate to pass the USA Freedom Act and for the House to act expeditiously so that the President can sign legislation into law this year."

John Eggerton

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.