WASHINGTON, DC — The Special Select Committee on Intelligence of the House of Representatives, instead of moving forward with its own much-criticized bill purporting to reform the NSA’s bulk surveillance programs, this morning unanimously voted to approve the USA FREEDOM Act that was unanimously approved by the House Judiciary Committee yesterday.
The following statement can be attributed to Kevin Bankston, Policy Director of New America’s Open Technology Institute:
“Especially considering where we were only a few months ago, when the Obama Administration and the Intelligence Committee’s leadership were still breathlessly arguing that it was absolutely necessary to national security that the NSA collect records on every phone call in America, this unanimous condemnation of bulk collection by both House committees is absolutely historic. With one voice, dozens of lawmakers from both parties have united to block the government’s bulk collection of any records, whether telephone records, Internet records, financial records, or any others, while also pressing for far more transparency around how the NSA uses its surveillance powers.
“The bill is admittedly an imperfect compromise, lacking a number of key reforms and containing some new language that will need to be clarified, and we will continue to work with Congress to give the bill even more teeth when it comes to reining in the NSA. But make no mistake: USA FREEDOM, if passed, would still be the most powerful new law to regulate government’s national security surveillance powers since the spying scandals of the seventies prompted Congress to pass the original Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.”
Discussing specific issues that need to be addressed before the full House of Representatives votes on the USA FREEDOM Act, Bankston continued:
“We’re particularly committed to ensuring that the bill’s language is tightened up to guarantee that the government’s authority to obtain specific records isn’t abused to secretly seize private communications content like emails, an issue that Representative Lofgren attempted to address yesterday through an amendment in the Judiciary Committee. And the provisions that allow more reporting by Internet and phone companies, although a great improvement on the deal struck by the Justice Department and the companies earlier this year, should be brought back into line with the much stronger transparency provisions that were in the original USA FREEDOM Act. But those are issues that several members of Congress have committed to addressing, and we look forward to working with them.
“This bill doesn’t reach all of the issues around NSA reform that need to be addressed, such as NSA’s backdoor searches of Americans’ data, its undermining of encryption standards, or its frighteningly broad surveillance and hacking of communications systems outside of the United States. But this week’s votes are only the start of what was always going to be a long process of rolling back the broad new NSA spying powers that have been growing in secret for over a decade. If we can end bulk collection now and prevent bulk collection in the future, that would be an enormous victory, even if other battles remain to be won.”