NSA Surveillance Reform Bill Passes House to Mixed Reaction
by Robert Lemos
A brief summary: Civil libertarians hoped the legislation would prevent indiscriminate collection of volumes of private communications. But now they say it was amended with weaker language.
The U.S. House of Representatives passed long-sought-after communications surveillance reform legislation on May 22, but last-minute changes to the bill had one-time supporters criticizing it as weak. The bill (H.R. 3361), also known as the USA Freedom Act, amends the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) of 1978, adding restrictions on the use of FISA by the National Security Agency to prevent the indiscriminate collection the phone records and other communications of U.S. citizens. Yet changes to the legislation earlier in the week caused many of the original supporters of the legislation to back away from supporting the bill. Critics fear that changes to the definitions of what types of records can be targeted continue to leave open the possibility of mass surveillance. "I am troubled by the changes that were made to the bill behind closed doors that stripped key protections and open the door to bulk collection", U.S. Representative Bennie G. Thompson, D-Miss., a ranking member of the House Committee on Homeland Security, said in a statement. "The Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board found that the NSA's bulk collection of metadata is illegal and called for it to be stopped".
Civil liberties groups, such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), spoke out against the amendments to the bill. On May 20, the EFF released an analysis that took issue with the amended bill's modified definitions of what information could be targeted as well as the lack of reform to a second section of FISA, Section 702, which covers intelligence collection about foreign individuals outside the United States. Finally, the EFF and other groups had called for a special advocate to be present during FISA Court hearings that could represent the interests of the people of the United States.