The U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved a bill to end the National Security Agency’s bulk telephone data collection program that was widely exposed by whistleblower Edward Snowden in 2013. If approved by the Senate and signed into law by President Barack Obama, the USA Freedom Act would see that data remain with telephone service providers and American spy agencies burdened with proving in court that it is relevant to anti-terror operations to gain access to it.
While the House overwhelmingly approved the Freedom Act with a 338-88 vote, it is expected to face stronger opposition in the Senate led by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who said an end to the data collection program “will neither keep us safe nor protect our privacy.” McConnell wants to extend the program for another five and a half years. A decision on the bill must be made before June 1, when the program is set to expire by law.
McConnell is backed by the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), who said on Wednesday that the program is effective and “has never had one breach of personal privacy.” Burr strongly criticized a bipartisan Senate bill proposal similar to the House bill led by Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt).
“I see the Leahy bill and expiration being one and the same because when you do away with bulk storage… you basically have an unworkable system in real time, and part of this program’s design is that it works in real time or ahead of a threat. We don’t want to be behind a threat or it’s a criminal investigation,” Burr said, according to Roll Call.
Along with ending bulk data collection, the Freedom Act would make the judicial doings of the Federal Intelligence Surveillance Court, which would sign off on any data requests, more transparent. It would establish a panel of experts in civil liberties and privacy at the FISA court and would require the government to make public “all significant constructions or interpretations of law by the FISA court.”
The Freedom Act has the support of the Obama administration, the Department of Justice and the Director of National Intelligence James Clapper.