The House Rules Committee isn’t interested in any amendments, privacy-protective or otherwise, to the NSA reform package.
After years of wrangling over bill text and amendments, the USA Freedom Act passed out of the Rules Committee with a lengthy hearing today. Next the bill will move to the House Floor for a vote in the next few days.
There are two important things to know about today’s hearing:
First, Congressman Goodlatte included one small technical change to clarify one of the important sections of the USA Freedom Act. Specifically, there is a provision in the bill that would add an amicus to provide technological expertise and argue for privacy and civil liberties before the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. Goodlatte’s change clarifies that the amicus can access any papers or documents that the Court determines are necessary to understanding the case in question, rather than just "relevant" documents. (The government has a loose, somewhat creative definition of the word “relevant").
Second, the Rules Committee decided that there would be no substantive amendments on the USA Freedom Act when it goes for a vote on the House Floor, which will likely happen this week. Instead, members of Congress will just vote yes or no on the existing bill text. While this is disappointing, it’s not surprising. There are numerous ways to strengthen the USA Freedom Act through amendments that would increase protections for the rights and freedoms of technology users. The House is missing out on a pivotal moment to improve the legislative text. However, it also means there is no opportunity for NSA apologists to water down the bill—exactly as they did to the House version last year.
In today's hearing, Representatives Goodlatte, Nadler, Amash, and Issa all spoke eloquently and powerfully in opposition to bulk surveillance. Many members of the Committee discussed the need for additional privacy protections, and the importance of addressing Internet surveillance issues in addition to phone record surveillance.
The House of Representatives has proven itself committed to surveillance reform time and time again since the first Snowden leak, and so this bill is expected to sail through the House with little opposition.
All eyes will then be on the Senate. The Senate is expected to take up the USA Freedom Act anytime in the next two weeks, and is likely to vote on it by May 22. The Senate will be in a powerful position to improve the civil liberties protections of USA Freedom, adding additional transparency and oversight provisions, adding stronger limitations on the collection of data on innocent people, and throwing out some provisions that were recently included at the behest of the intelligence community. Check out our detailed discussion of what could be improved in the bill, and why a recent Second Circuit Court ruling sets the stage for stronger surveillance reforms.
2015 can and should be the year for powerful surveillance reform, and we’re urging the Senate to rise to this opportunity.
However, even as the USA Freedom Act moves ahead, there are those within Congress who are seeking a rubber-stamp reauthorization of Patriot Act spying authorities. They’re trying to extend the mass surveillance of millions of phone records of law-abiding citizens for another 5 years. Join us in telling Congress that we need an end to mass surveillance—not another rubber stamp.
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