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 Politics Archive 2014

The House voted unanimously to pass
the USA Freedom Act
by Nathan'ette Burdine: June 15, 2014

A bi-partisan group of House of Representative members voted 303-121 to pass the USA Freedom Act.

Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI), chairman of the Judiciary Committee’s Homeland Security and Investigations Subcommittee, wrote the bill.

The bill will limit the amount of data the National Security Agency (NSA) can keep in its system and make public requests and cases involving the NSA.

The bill also stops the NSA from collecting bulk data from a wide range of sources such as emails, credit cards, telephone records, trap and trace devices.

And if the government needs to conduct a search, the government must get approval from the court within seven days of searching an individual’s records.

There will also be amicus curiae, friends of the court, created within the Foreign Intelligence Services Agency (FISA), to discuss cases brought before the FISA court.

Further, the director of National Intelligence and the U.S. Attorney General will present to the public the courts’ opinions concerning cases involving the NSA.

Businesses will also be allowed to make public the government request to search customers’ records.

In response to the bill passing, Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner released a joint statement with Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), Judiciary Committee Ranking Member John Conyers (D-MI), Reps. Bobby Scott (D-VA), Randy Forbes (R-VA), and Jerry Nadler (D-NY).

The congressmen are quoted in the May 22, 2014, press release as saying, “Today’s strong, bipartisan vote by the House of Representatives on the USA Freedom Act will help protect our cherished individual liberties as the federal government carries out its duty to keep our nation safe from foreign enemies. The USA Freedom Act safeguards Americans’ civil liberties by ending domestic bulk collection once and for all and increases the oversight and transparency of these intelligence-gathering programs so that we can begin to rebuild trust with the American people.”

Members of the House Judiciary Committee began working on the USA Freedom Act after NSA Leaker Eric Snowden released documents about the NSA’s bulk collection program.

The documents revealed that the NSA used a variety of electronic sources such as emails, social media links, cell phones, and credit cards in order to randomly collect data on Americans.

The revelation resulted in a debate about whether the concern over national security was allowing the NSA to violate Americans’ rights to privacy and due process.

Goodlatte, however, made clear that although Snowden’s actions led to the House taken a second look at the NSA, it doesn’t mean that Snowden’s actions are viewed favorably.

Goodlatte stated that individual freedoms and the country’s safety are not separate issues and that his job is to make sure that the balance between individual freedoms and the country’s safety is maintained.

“And for 225 years, we have refused to accept the idea that in order to have national security, we must sacrifice our personal freedoms. Some, however, think these goals are in conflict with one another following last year’s unauthorized disclosure of the National Security Agency’s data collection programs operated under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA,” Goodlatte said during a speech on the House’s floor.

Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI) authored the Freedom Act bill, which the USA Freedom Act bill is based upon, and cautioned that the USA Freedom Act will not provide the same level of safety and protections of individual freedoms that the Freedom Act bill would have provided.

Amash expressed frustration at the bill including “specific selection terms.”  “Specific selection terms” define a particular area, like area code 202, the government can use when conducting investigations on an individual.

According to Amash, the bill does not prevent the government from continuing bulk collection by broadening its search to everyone who lives in the same area code or region as the individual or group the government is investigating.

He further expressed concerns about sec. 215 (Sunset Provision) of the Patriot Act being extended to December 31, 2017, and what he considers to be “backroom deals” to get the bill passed.

Amash’s concerns were shared by his congressional colleagues, who also voted against the bill.

In particular, Eric Swalwell stated in a press release that the USA Freedom Act continues the wide range surveillance that it should have prevented: “Today, I voted against the USA FREEDOM ACT because it does not go far enough to rein in the NSA spying program or protect Americans’ civil liberties. Although I supported the bill’s original intent to end the mass collection of phone records, unfortunately the watered-down bill we were presented with on the House Floor would allow this outrageous surveillance to continue.”

Congressman Conyers, who co-sponsored Amash’s bill, agreed that the bill is not perfect. He acknowledged the concerns pertaining to the government being allowed to continue broad searches by using a specific area code or region to investigate an individual.

However, Conyers stated that that concern is not realistic and that the bill accomplishes the Intelligence Committee and the Judiciary Committee’s goal of ending bulk collection.

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