By Elizabeth Holland
The House of Representatives voted 338 to 88 to pass the USA FREEDOM Act (H.R. 2048) on Wednesday, taking an important step forward to restrict overbroad government surveillance in advance of the June 1 expiration of USA PATRIOT Act provisions. AALL urges the Senate to follow suit and act quickly to approve the USA FREEDOM Act without any weakening amendments.
The USA FREEDOM Act would reform Section 215, the “library records” provision, of the USA PATRIOT Act to end the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of Americans’ telephone records. Last week, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the program is illegal, making it much more difficult for the bulk collection program to continue. The White House also issued a Statement of Administration Policy in support of the USA FREEDOM Act.
Though AALL was disappointed that amendments to strengthen the bill were blocked in the committee process, we believe the USA FREEDOM Act is a critical to ending the bulk collection program and protecting the privacy of all Americans. We are pleased that H.R. 2048 contains important privacy and transparency provisions, including a requirement that significant constructions or interpretations of law by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court be made public.
AALL opposes an effort by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, S. 1035, to renew the expiring USA PATRIOT Act authorities for another five years without reform. While that measure would likely fail, Senators opposed to the USA FREEDOM Act have suggested bringing a short-term reauthorization to the floor in the face of a potential filibuster. With the clock ticking toward expiration, the Senate should feel pressure to act.
While the USA FREEDOM Act is far from perfect, this legislation offers a path for effective and meaningful reform to restore privacy. With the courts, White House, House of Representatives, and American people clearly in favor of reform, AALL urges the Senate to approve this sensible compromise legislation.