By Elizabeth Holland
On Thursday, the House of Representatives passed the USA FREEDOM Act (H.R. 3361) in a 302-121 vote. In the eleven months since the Edward Snowden leaks shed light on the National Security Agency’s (NSA) secret spying practices, the political tide has clearly shifted against government surveillance. But while House passage of the USA FREEDOM Act indicates that lawmakers are critical of current surveillance practices, the USA FREEDOM Act passed by the House does not go far enough to protect the privacy of library users and all Americans.
Despite calls from privacy advocates and open government groups to strengthen the USA FREEDOM Act before sending it to the floor, the House Rules Committee made substantial modifications to the bill due to pressure from the Obama Administration. In the version passed by the House, search selector terms used by the NSA to define the scope of data requests have been broadened in such a way that could still allow bulk collection. The bill also limits transparency reporting for companies who receive such requests for data, and wrongly shifts the role of declassifying court decisions from the attorney general to the director of national intelligence. Many of the USA FREEDOM Act’s original co-sponsors expressed disappointment with the weakened legislation, with 76 of the bill’s 152 co-sponsors ultimately voting against it.
Congress can still act to reign in the NSA’s spying programs as the Senate Judiciary Committee will likely take up the USA FREEDOM Act this summer. Several leading senators have said they want a stronger bill and Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) has pledged his commitment to “meaningful reform.”
AALL urges the Senate to support improvements to the USA FREEDOM Act to protect the privacy of all Americans and ensure greater transparency about their government’s actions.