The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill Wednesday to end the National Security Agency program of collecting bulk phone records. According to the bill, the agency would no longer be allowed to keep a record of personal telephonic data unless there is a special case.
The House voted 338-88 in favor of the USA Freedom Act. The U.S. intelligence agency would no longer be free to access bulk telephonic records. It would be able to access records only when “reasonable suspicion” related to global terrorism is established in a court.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, is among the major figures in Congress who favor renewing provisions of the Patriot Act that are set to expire June 1. The act was signed into law by then-President George W. Bush after the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican who serves as chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said he favors extending the Patriot Act provisions until 2020.
But despite strong support from those top Senate Republicans, renewal of the provisions seems unlikely in the House. Former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, now exhiled in Russia, exposed the phone surveillance program in 2013. It has been highly criticized by privacy advocates ever since.
House Speaker John Boehner argued that the Patriot Act provisions were critically important for keeping Americans safe and protecting the nation's “foreign intelligence capabilities.” “All I know is, these programs expire at the end of this month,” Boehner said, as the Washington Post reported. “The House is going to act, and I would hope the Senate would act soon as well.”
While the Freedom Act would still allow the NSA to access telephonic data, that access would depend on specific conditions. Peter Swire, a professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology, said the most significant part of the Freedom Act was its requirement to limit bulk collection programs. Reuters quoted Swire saying that one court order would not be enough anymore to authorize such programs.
According to the White House, President Barack Obama backs the reforms in the Freedom Act. He is all set to sign the bill into law.
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