OTI Statement: As House Passes Watered-Down USA FREEDOM Act, Fight for Real Reform Turns to The Senate

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Washington, DC – This morning, the US House of Representatives approved the House Rules Committee’s version of the USA FREEDOM Act with a vote of 303 to 121.  The bill that passed today is substantially weaker than the version of the bill that the House Judiciary and Intelligence committees approved unanimously just two weeks ago, after secret negotiations between House leaders and the Obama Administration.  New America’s Open Technology Institute (OTI) earlier this week withdrew its support for the bill and issued a fact sheet detailing its shortcomings.
 
The following statement can be attributed to Kevin Bankston, OTI’s Policy Director:
 
“If House leaders had backed up their members and stood behind the bill that passed unanimously out of two committees, rather than caving to the intelligence community’s list of demands, a much stronger reform bill would have passed the House this morning.  Today’s bill is still better than the Intelligence committee's competing bill, or no bill at all, and we especially appreciate Congressmen Sensenbrenner and Conyers’ efforts to get the best legislation they could in the face of strong opposition from the White House and their own leadership.  But this is not the surveillance reform that Americans deserve and have demanded, and we look forward to fighting in the Senate to make sure that USA FREEDOM definitively ends mass surveillance of all kinds.”
 
The following statement can be attributed to Robyn Greene, OTI’s Policy Counsel specializing in surveillance issues:
 
“We are gravely concerned that the watered down version of the USA FREEDOM Act that passed the House today does not provide the comprehensive reform we need to protect millions of innocent Americans from having their private information collected by the government.  We look forward to working with the Senate to strengthen the bill’s ban on bulk collection of records, and to restore the strong transparency provisions that were gutted from the House bill and that would have allowed companies to assure customers their privacy is being properly guarded.  We are also eager to ensure that new language that was added to the hastily negotiated House version of the bill does not inadvertently approve of the government’s scanning the contents of everyone’s international emails for information about its targets.  Congress must pass reforms to guarantee that Americans’ private communications and records are protected, and that transparency and oversight mechanisms exist to ensure that the surveillance abuses we learned about over the past year never happen again.  We now look to the Senate to help us make that happen.”

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