By Ryan Gierach, West Hollywood, California
The US House of Representatives yesterday passed the USA Freedom Act (H.R. 3361) which stops the federal government’s bulk collection of metadata from Americans’ telephonic and electronic communications while also putting into place tighter controls on government access to that information.
The House Judiciary Committee sent out a bi-partisan statement:
“With today’s vote, the House approved the first significant rollback of government surveillance since the passage of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act in 1978. While this is not a perfect bill, the USA Freedom Act is an important step in the right direction.”
West Hollywood’s Representative Adam Schiff, who has taken a lead role in cutting back intrusions into Americans’ privacy, issued this statement. “The bill we passed ends bulk collection, and moves to a model where the telecommunications providers hold their own data. It also largely tracks the Telephone Metadata Reform Act that I introduced in January, which requires FISC approval before a query is made to the telephone companies in the absence of exigent circumstances.’
Still, he was not entirely pleased with the results, although they encouraged him, he said.
“The bill reported unanimously today by the Intelligence Committee is a very important step on the road to ending bulk collection and reforming the metadata program,” he said. “It is also an indication of the emerging consensus on how to reform our surveillance authorities while preserving the capabilities we need to protect our nation.
“I appreciate the work done by both the intelligence and judiciary committee members and leadership to find compromise and move forward. There is still much work to be done, and I hope to make more progress as the debate moves towards the floor. Among the areas I believe the bill can improve are strengthening the provisions to provide for an adversarial process in the FISA Court and permitting more informative transparency reporting by service providers and Internet companies,” said the congressman.
Congressman Schiff, has introduced several pieces of reform legislation in addition to proposing changes to the phone metadata program, including Telephone Metadata Reform Act, the “Ending Secret Law Act” and Rep. Schiff introduced legislation to require the Privacy and Civil Liberties Board to create a pool of attorneys with experience in Fourth Amendment or national security law to argue the side of the public when the government requests a surveillance warrant in the FISA Court.
The passage of the bill comes nearly a year after the National Security Agency spying scandal broke in June 2013. Introduced on October 29, 2013, by Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), civil liberties advocates and tech firms at first supported the bill but rescinded that support once they saw the compromises required to gain passage and the cooperation by the White House.
The act creates new rules that stipulate that details of call records can only be collected on a continuing basis after approval has been received by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.
The bill also requires the government to create firewalls to protect business and personal privacy.
It establishes a panel of experts to guide the FISA court adequately as it considers privacy concerns and the constitutional rights of Americans.
Additionally, the government must disclose the number of requests made for call detail records and requires the Administrative Office of the US Courts to publicly report on an annual basis the number of FISA orders issued, modified, or denied by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.