USA FREEDOM Act Gets Unanimous Approval in HJC Vote

By Elizabeth Holland

Yesterday, the House Judiciary Committee voted unanimously to approve the USA FREEDOM Act (H.R. 3361), an important step forward toward reforming the National Security Agency’s surveillance authorities. As we reported Tuesday, the Committee considered an amended “compromise” version of the bill. The 32-0 bipartisan vote signals that this legislation will likely be the reform vehicle to move forward in the House.

The USA FREEDOM Act “unequivocally ends bulk collection,” the bill’s author, Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), said at the markup. Sensenbrenner, who also authored the 2001 USA PATRIOT Act, said the vote “makes it crystal clear that Congress does not support bulk collection.”  If passed, the amended USA FREEDOM Act would allow the government to collect phone data on U.S. citizens in cases where “reasonable, articulable suspicion” of wrongdoing can be proved, in turn allowing the government to collect metadata on individuals who are two degrees of separation, or “hops”, from the suspect. 

Several important reforms were excluded from the Judiciary passed bill. The amended USA FREEDOM Act fails to address collection authority under Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act and does not provide a fix to the “backdoor loophole,” in which the NSA interprets the law to allow searches of data collected under Section 702 for the purpose of finding communications of a U.S. person. An attempt to restore this provision, offered by Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) was struck down Wednesday.

The Judiciary Committee did restore a provision permitting increased transparency for companies receiving surveillance orders for their customers’ data, an amendment offered by Rep. Suzan Delbene (D-Wash.). AALL applauds the House Judiciary Committee’s unanimous vote. We hope to see additional reforms and transparency measures incorporated as the bill moves forward in the legislative process and urge members of Congress to support this important reform.

Note: The House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence held a closed-door markup of the USA FREEDOM Act this morning. There are conflicting reports about the content of amendments considered during that markup. We will provide more information as it becomes available. 

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