2nd Panel OKs Limits on Bulk Collection

USA Freedom Act Heads Toward the House Floor
2nd Panel OKs Limits on Bulk Collection
Harley Geiger
With a second House panel approving the USA Freedom Act, Congress moves a step closer to sending the president a bill to limit the government's bulk metadata collection program, the Center for Democracy and Technology's Harley Geiger says.

A day after the House Judiciary Committee unanimously passed the USA Freedom Act, the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, meeting in a closed session on May 8, approved the same measure by a voice vote. The measure heads to the full House for consideration after a detour to the Rules Committee, which will attach rules for how the measure will be debated.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., introduced a Senate version of the USA Freedom Act earlier this week. The Senate panel is expected to address the legislation this summer.

Leaks last year from former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden revealed the then-classified program to collect the metadata of telephone calls from American citizens (see NSA's Prism: Balancing Security, Privacy).

President Obama in March signaled that he supports reform to curtail drastically the bulk collection program (see Plan Would End NSA Collection Program), but the White House has yet to weigh in on the USA Freedom Act.

Geiger, in a May 8 interview with Information Security Media Group, says the White House has been in negotiations with the House sponsors of the USA Freedom Act, and the legislation incorporates the reform provisions the president sought.

The House Intelligence Committee also considered behind closed doors a similar bill, the FISA Transparency and Modernization Act, which Geiger contends doesn't go far enough to protect citizens' privacy. The intelligence panel did not report the fate of the FISA Transparency and Modernization Act.

Limits on Data Collection

The USA Freedom Act would only allow collection of data for counterterrorism purposes and require a judge on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to first approve the collection of such data, except in emergencies. The FISA Transparency and Modernization Act would provide broader exceptions to data collection, allowing the government to collect metadata to detect espionage, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and other types of national-security threats. And, under that bill, the government could seek court approval after it collected the data.

Geiger, senior counsel and deputy director of the Freedom, Security and Surveillance Project at the Center for Democracy & Technology, says the bipartisan and unanimous approval of the USA Freedom Act by the House Judiciary Committee suggests the bill has a good chance of passing in the House and Senate.

In the interview, Geiger explains:

  • The major components in the USA Freedom Act, including prohibitions on bulk collection for all types of data, not just phone records, and requiring prior court approval for each record requested;
  • The path the USA Freedom Act likely will take in the coming months; and
  • The possibility of amendments to the bill in the Senate, changes Geiger doesn't expect to torpedo the measure.

Geiger works on issues related to civil liberties and government surveillance, computer crime and cybersecurity. From 2012 to 2014, he served as senior legislative counsel for technology and Internet issues for U.S. Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif.

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