Tag Archives: usa freedom act

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.

ARL Disappointed by Version of USA FREEDOM Act Passed by US House of Representatives

Today, May 22, 2014, the US House of Representatives voted 303 to 121 to pass H.R. 3361, the USA FREEDOM Act, after amending the bill twice in committees. The original version of the bill, which currently remains unaltered in the Senate, had 151 House co-sponsors. Some of these co-sponsors withdrew their support and opposed the version of H.R. 3361 reported out of the House Rules Committee on May 21, 2014, because of the significant changes made. Even several of those co-sponsors who voted in favor of H.R. 3361 expressed disappointment that the bill did not go far enough in curtailing the Government’s ability to conduct bulk collection of records and failed to protect privacy and civil liberties in the same manner as the prior versions.

The Association of Research Libraries (ARL) supported the version of the USA FREEDOM Act originally introduced in the House and Senate in October 2013, as well as the version altered by the Manager’s Amendment, which was unanimously passed by the House Judiciary Committee and the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence on May 15, 2014. After unanimous passage through these two committees, the bill was again altered when reported out of the House Rules Committee. The version passed on the House Floor today represents a significantly watered down version of the USA FREEDOM Act.

ARL, like many civil liberties and privacy groups that previously expressed public support of the bill, has withdrawn its support for the weakened version of H.R. 3361. Although the version of the bill passed by the House today does represent a step toward reform, ARL is disappointed by the changes made at the eleventh hour that remove clarity and weaken protections afforded by earlier versions of the bill.

The prior versions of the USA FREEDOM Act would have ended bulk collection of records under Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act, also known as the “business records” or “library records” provision. The version passed unanimously through the Judiciary and Permanent Select Committees would have ended bulk collection by requiring that records requested and obtained by intelligence authorities be limited to a “specific selection term,” defined as “a term used to uniquely describe a person, entity, or account.” The version that went to the House Floor, however, potentially expands the scope of a specific selection term by ambiguously defining “specific selection term” as “a discrete term…used by the Government to limit the scope of information or tangible things sought.” ARL is concerned that this broad definition does not go far enough in limiting the collection of records, and the ambiguity could result in intelligence authorities overreaching and conducting large-scale collections once again.

Although ARL is disappointed by the version of the USA FREEDOM Act passed by the House today, the Association remains hopeful that the Senate will continue to work from the original version and ensure meaningful reform, including strong privacy protections for communications and records of US persons.

An excellent, in-depth analysis from the Center for Democracy and Technology is available here.