Tag Archives: fisc

House of Representatives Passes USA FREEDOM Act; Senate To Act Quickly

On Wednesday, May 13, 2015, the U.S. House of Representatives voted in favor of the USA FREEDOM Act, legislation that bans bulk collection under Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act as well as other authorities, such as the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) pen/trap statute and national security letters (NSL) by an overwhelming majority of 338 to 88. ARL is pleased that the House of Representatives has passed stronger reform than its 2014 version and considers this development a step forward in surveillance reform.

Since 2006, the National Security Agency (NSA) has engaged in the practice of bulk collection of phone records under Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act, also known as the “library records” or “business records” provision. The 2015 USA FREEDOM Act, backed by the White House, specifically addresses this issue and prohibits bulk collection, only permitting limited surveillance orders that focus on a specific selection term. The Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit also addressed this issue recently, ruling that the NSA’s practice of bulk collection exceeded the authority under Section 215 and therefore unlawful.

The 2015 version of the USA FREEDOM Act passed by the U.S. House of Representatives also includes several amendments to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) and transparency measures, representing an improvement over the version passed during the last Congress. The bill will now go to the Senate and must be considered quickly, given the upcoming expiration date of certain provisions of the PATRIOT Act, including Section 215.

While the version passed today by the House of Representatives includes better reforms to surveillance practices than in the 2014 bill, the USA FREEDOM Act is just one step forward in a series of necessary reforms. The Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit’s recent unanimous decision that the NSA’s bulk collection practices exceeded the scope of authority granted under Section 215 demonstrates the egregiousness of the NSA’s interpretation of its authority and the willingness of FISC to approve such broad application of the law. Congress should take care to ensure that provisions under USA FREEDOM Act are not similarly interpreted in an overly-broad manner by the NSA to infringe on the privacy rights of those in the United States. ARL looks forward to continuing to work with Congress to ensure that privacy rights are respected and hopes that additional reforms will be made.

ARL Joins Broad Coalition Calling for Surveillance Reform

On Wednesday, March 25, 2015, ARL joined a coalition of 47 advocacy groups, technology companies and trade associations in sending a letter to President Obama, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, Attorney General Eric Holder, Director of National Security Admiral Michael Rogers, and Congressional leadership advocating for significant surveillance reform. Key portions of the PATRIOT Act, including Section 215 (known as the “business records” or “library records” provisions), which has been used as the basis for bulk collection of records, are set to sunset on June 1, 2015.

While these groups hold differing opinions on the best and most appropriate reforms, all came together in agreement that reform must include: 1) Ending bulk collection under Section 215 provision, as well as under Section 214, the provision governing pen registers and trap and trace deices; and 2) Transparency and accountability measures for government and company reporting as well as declassifications of Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court decisions.

These elements are minimum components to a surveillance reform package. The letter concludes, “It has been nearly two years since the first news stories revealed the scope of the United States’ surveillance and bulk collection activities. Now is the time to take on meaningful legislative privacy, transparency, and accountability.”

Given the quickly approaching June 1 deadline, Congress must move swiftly to pass surveillance reform.   Last November, the U.S. Senate failed to advance the USA FREEDOM Act, falling two votes shy of the necessary 60 votes for cloture, which would have provided meaningful reform to current NSA practices. The Senate version of the USA FREEDOM Act, introduced by Senator Leahy (D-VT) would have ended the current practice of bulk collection of phone records, would have made meaningful reforms to the FISA Court, and included enhanced transparency. ARL urges Congress to act now and pass meaningful reforms, such as those proposed by Senator Leahy’s bill.

Senator Leahy Introduces New Version of USA FREEDOM Act, Includes Significant Improvements Over House Version

On July 29, 2014, Senator Leahy (D-VT) re-introduced a new version of the USA FREEDOM Act, co-sponsored by Senators Lee (R-UT), Durbin (D-IL), Heller (R-NV), Franken (D-MN), Cruz (R-TX), Blumenthal (D-CT), Udall (D-NM), Coons (D-DE), Heinrich (D-NM), Markey (D-MA), Hirono (D-HI), Klobuchar (D-MN), and Whitehouse (D-RI). ARL supports this version, which includes major improvements over the version passed in the House (H.R. 3361) on May 22, 2014, including more effective language to end bulk collection and protect civil liberties and strengthened transparency provisions. ARL has signed on to two letters supporting the new version of the USA FREEDOM Act, including one that focuses on the enhanced transparency provision and one that addresses the bill more comprehensively. Both letters urge Congressional leadership to act swiftly and pass the new version, without any dilution or amendment.

The version that passed the U.S. House of Representatives represented a significantly watered down version after changes were made by the House Rules Committee on the eve of the floor vote on the bill. Although the House passed the bill, half of the original House co-sponsors to the USA FREEDOM Act withdrew their support and opposed the weakened version because it did not go far enough in curtailing the Government’s ability to conduct bulk collection and failed to protect privacy and civil liberties in the same manner as prior versions. Organizations that originally supported the USA FREEDOM Act withdrew support for the House version and urged the Senate to ensure meaningful reform.

Leahy’s version narrowly defines a “specific selection term” in an effort to effectively curb bulk collection. It clearly prohibits the collection of broad swaths of information under Section 215—the provision known as the “business records” or “library records” provision—such as all information related to a broad geographic region (such as a city, state, zip code or area code). It also enhances minimization procedures, requiring the government to delete data it has collected on individuals that are not targets of the investigation or contacts of such individuals and limits the purpose for which call detail records may be generated.

The new version of the bill would also make several reforms to the FISA Court, such as requiring that unclassified summaries of FISC opinions include information necessary to understand the impact on civil liberties. It would also require disclosure of FISC opinions of “new construction or interpretation of the term ‘specific selection term.’” It provides further protections by providing for a Special Advocate position charged with protecting privacy and civil liberties and requires that the Office of the Special Advocate has access to relevant legal precedent and materials necessary to participate in FISC proceedings.

Finally, Leahy’s new version improves on the House version through enhanced transparency provisions. It requires the government to report on the number of U.S. persons whose information was collected and number of searched conducted under Section 215. It reduces the time a company must wait after receiving a FISA order before reporting on it from two years to one year.

A detailed comparison between the House-passed version and Senator Leahy’s new version is available through the Center for Democracy and Technology.