The USA Freedom Act Passes! Senate Approves Restrictions on Surveillance Against Americans.

Modest, but actual, scaling back on metadata collection authorities.


Raise a glass!
The Guardian

We will see privacy-minded reform of the National Security Act (NSA) and FBI's expansive surveillance authorities targeting Americans. The USA Freedom Act has passed the Senate. This is the first time Congress has restrained surveillance powers in years.

The proposed amendments Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) introduced earlier today to weaken the USA Freedom Act were all rejected this afternoon by the full Senate. After his failure, the Senate voted in favor of the Freedom Act as it was additionally delivered to the Senate (meaning amendments by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) would not be considered).

Ultimately the USA Freedom Act, which is meant to replace sunsetted Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act with stricter rules for the collection of Americans' telephone and electronic metadata by the National Security Agency (NSA), was approved unamended. The final vote was 67-32. It will now head to President Barack Obama for his signature. The White House has already declared support for this version of the bill.

The bill was far from perfect, which is why some privacy-minded politicians like Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) and Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) opposed it and wanted it to be even stronger. Paul again said no for this final vote for the bill.

But the passage of the Freedom Act should nevertheless be seen as a win. No, it does not end mass metadata collection entirely, but it does require more selective search terms for records, collecting them from the telecom and Internet companies using these terms, not just trying to collect all records and then searching through them for the ones they want. It also sheds some much-needed sunlight on the mysterious Foreign Intelligence Surveillance (FISA) Court by permitting third-party advisors to advocate for the protection of civil liberties and calls for the declassification of FISA Court decisions. (Read more about the Freedom Act here).

There is still more to be done to scale back the authority of the federal government to inappropriately access Americans' data. The Guardian has a look at what is next on the agendas of privacy politicians here.

If you choose to celebrate this outcome, make sure to spare a toast to Edward Snowden, without which this would not have happened.

Update: Here's a video of McConnell expressing his disappointment in advance of a vote he knows he is about to lose: