Today, the House Judiciary Committee will mark up H.R. 2048, the USA Freedom Act, which ends bulk collection of Americans’ telephone records under Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act’s pen/trap statute, and National Security Letters.
“USA FREEDOM won’t fix every surveillance program, but it will put an end to the worst offender: the NSA’s bulk collection of telephone records,” said Berin Szoka, president of TechFreedom. “Passing the bill in its current form would be a huge improvement over the status quo, but there’s no doubt the Act could be improved with amendments, starting with the Poe-Lofgren and Labrador proposals.”
The Poe-Lofgren amendment bars government agencies from collecting and searching the communications of Americans without a warrant using authority under Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). It also bars the NSA from mandating that private companies create backdoor vulnerabilities in their encryption standards, which are specifically designed to protect consumers.
The Labrador amendment would clarify the current “emergency authority” language in the USA Freedom Act, which is over-broad and falls well outside the long-standing FISA standard. The Labrador amendment would strike that text and replace it with language requiring that emergency authorities must be tied to a clearly defined emergency linked to an imminent threat of death or bodily harm.
“Whatever happens with USA FREEDOM, this debate is far from over,” said Ryan Radia, Associate Director of Technology Studies at the Competitive Enterprise Institute. “Even if the bill passes, with or without these amendments, Congress will still have to address the mess of surveillance and privacy intrusions at all levels of government.”
“But unless a reform bill passes, the Senate may fast-track a PATRIOT Act reauthorization that allows bulk collection to continue,” continued Radia. “A strong vote for USA FREEDOM will signal broad support for reform and opposition to the status quo.”