White House to Congress: Pass USA Freedom Act

Add the White House to the list of those urging Congress to pass the USA Freedom Act, a bill that those backers say would end indiscriminate bulk collection of communications metadata by the National Security Agency.

The bill, H.R. 2048, is expected to get a vote on the House floor this week, with House leaders signaling that any amendments would sink the carefully crafted compromise, which needs to pass by June 1 to keep various provisions of the Patriot Act from sunsetting.

A straight Patriot Act reauthorization has been proposed in the Senate that would essentially renew the bulk collection.

The USA Freedom Act makes the data collection more targeted, and boosts transparency about what is being collected, among other things. A clean version of the bill passed overwhelmingly (25 to 2) out of the House Judiciary Committee April 30.

"The President has called on Congress to enact important changes to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) that enhance privacy and better safeguard our civil liberties, while keeping our Nation safe," the Executive Office of the President said in a statement. "The Administration applauds and appreciates the strong bipartisan and bicameral effort that led to the formulation of this bill, which strikes an appropriate balance between significant reform and preservation of important national security tools."

The bill still has plenty of critics, including various progressive groups—Demand Progress, MoveOn.org among them—who say the reforms are insufficient to justify renewing the program.

Those groups got some ammunition last week when a federal court ruled that the bulk data collection, exposed by NSA contractor Edward Snowden, was illegal.

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.