By Elizabeth Holland
The USA FREEDOM Act (H.R. 2048, S. 1123) was reintroduced in both chambers of Congress yesterday by a bipartisan, bicameral coalition of members. Though more limited in scope than legislation by the same name which ultimately failed to pass last year, the USA FREEDOM Act of 2015 would end the National Security Agency’s ongoing bulk collection of domestic phone records and prevent the government from establishing new bulk collection programs under several other authorities. AALL urges Congress to move swiftly to adopt the USA FREEDOM Act, which we believe to be a significant first step forward toward making these important reforms.
Falling somewhere between the 113th Congress’s weak House-passed bill and the compromise Senate version, the current iteration of the USA FREEDOM Act includes important privacy and transparency provisions. The bill would end the bulk collection of Americans’ communications records under Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) pen register authority, and National Security Letter (NSL) statutes. Under the legislation, all significant constructions or interpretations of law by the FISA court must be made public. The bill would also create a panel of amicus curie to provide guidance on matters of privacy and civil liberties, communications technology, and other technical or legal matters.
With the June 1 expiration of PATRIOT Act provisions approaching, the House Judiciary Committee is scheduled to markup the USA FREEDOM Act tomorrow. AALL urges the Committee to adopt amendments to restore the oversight, transparency, and accountability requirements included in the 113th Congress’s compromise bill. In addition, we support the proposed bipartisan Poe-Lofgren Amendment to amend and close the “backdoor loophole” under Section 702 of FISA to prohibit searches of data collected for the purpose of finding the communications of a U.S. person. A similar amendment was adopted in the Fiscal Year 2015 Defense Appropriations bill.
AALL opposes clean reauthorization of Section 215 without amendment. In its current form, the USA FREEDOM Act offers a path for effective and meaningful reform to restore privacy and transparency and we urge its swift enactment.