Members of Congress appear ready to use a rare moment of leverage over the NSA to place modest limits on only one of the many mass surveillance programs exposed by Edward Snowden.
The USA Freedom Act of 2015, a long-awaited compromise bill negotiated by House and Senate Judiciary Committee members, was unveiled Tuesday. The bill calls for the bulk collection of Americans’ phone records by the National Security Agency to be replaced with a more selective approach in which the agency would collect from communications companies only records that match certain terms. The bill also requires more disclosure — and a public advocate — for the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.
But nearly two years after Snowden gave the public a rare and extensive view into the U.S. surveillance state, Congress is doing nothing to limit NSA programs ostensibly targeted at foreigners that nonetheless collect vast amounts of American communications, nor to limit the agency’s mass surveillance of non-American communications. The limited reforms in the new bill affect only the one program explicitly aimed at Americans.
Congress had leverage for once because three provisions of the PATRIOT Act are set to expire on June 1. They include, most significantly, Section 215 of the act, which was intended to allow the government to obtain specific business records relevant to particular counterterror investigations, subject to review by a FISA court judge. Instead, the NSA used it to justify the wholesale seizure of American telephone records.
The USA Freedom Act would amend Section 215 so that the government, when seeking phone and other business records, would have to use a “specific selection term”.
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