The United States House of Representatives approved a surveillance reform bill early Thursday that aims to address controversial National Security Agency programs but falls well short of doing so, according to privacy advocates.
In Washington, DC, the House voted 303-to-121 on Thursday morning in favor of the USA Freedom Act, which includes a provision that the bill’s authors say will halt the US government’s bulk collection of telephone metadata.
One day earlier, the White House endorsed the bill and said in a statement that its “significant reforms would provide the public greater confidence in our programs and the checks and balances in the system.”
“It ends collection of all bulk metadata by the government,” Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Maryland) a supporter of the bill, told his colleagues on the floor of Congress before Thursday’s vote.
According to an outline provided by the bill’s authors, if approved the act would “rein in the dragnet collection of data by the National Security Agency (NSA) and other government agencies, increase transparency of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), provide businesses the ability to release information regarding FISA requests and create an independent constitutional advocate to argue cases before the FISC.”
In its current form, however, critics say it lacks the sufficient provisions to truly put a dent in the NSA’s spy programs. The Electronic Frontier Foundation this week accused the latest version of the act to have been “gutted” of its most crucial parts and “doesn’t achieve the goal of ending mass spying.”
Although the USA Freedom Act originally contained provisions that would allow companies to more fully discuss requests for data they receive from the government and install a civil liberties advocate to audit the FISA Court’s operations, those were removed ahead of Thursday’s vote.
“We are glad that the House added a clause to the bill clarifying the content of communications cannot be obtained with Section 215,” the EFF said in a statement on Tuesday, referring to the Patriot Act provision that opened the door for the NSA’s current operations. “Unfortunately, the bill’s changed definitions, the lack of substantial reform to Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Amendments Act and the inability to introduce a special advocate in the FISA Court severely weakens the bill.”
“This legislation was designed to prohibit bulk collection, but has been made so weak that it fails to adequately protect against mass, untargeted collection of Americans’ private information,” added Nuala O’Connor, the president and CEO of the Center for Democracy and Technology.