The U.S. House of Representatives voted Wednesday to approve a measure that would, among other things, end the mass collection of Americans’ phone data.
The USA Freedom Act extends many parts of the 2001 USA Patriot Act, which expires June 1. The measure’s fate in the Senate is less likely.
The surveillance issue has sparked “rare bipartisan unity” in the House, NPR’s David Welna reports for today’s All Things Considered. He notes that the push to change the law comes from Rep. Bob Goodlatte, the Republican chairman of the Judiciary Committee.
“Despite changes to the NSA bulk telephone metadata program announced by President Obama last year,” Goodlatte says, “the bulk collection of the records has not ceased, and will not cease, unless and until Congress acts to shut it down.”
Wednesday’s vote comes nearly two years after former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden revealed the U.S. government’s secret program to collect and store huge amounts of data from millions of Americans’ phone records.
Just last week, that program was ruled illegal by a federal appeals court that said if Congress wants to “authorize such a far‐reaching and unprecedented program, it has every opportunity to do so, and to do so unambiguously.”
The House measure would extend the revised Patriot Act until Dec. 15, 2019. Last fall, the Senate failed to advance its own version of the Freedom USA Act.
The Senate hasn’t yet taken up a Patriot Act extension — and when it does, many expect the debate to be far more contentious than in the House, partly because Republican presidential candidates such as Sens. Marco Rubio and Rand Paul have been vocal about the Patriot Act. (Rubio supports an extension; Paul has threatened a filibuster.)
While the House’s measure would modify the phone records program, controversy also surrounds three main areas of the Patriot Act:
- Roving wiretaps: One authorization covers one person’s devices, computers, and phones.
- Easier access to records: Broad access covers everything from business documents to library records.
- “Lone wolf” provision: The traditional definition of an “agent of a foreign power” is changed to allow for surveillance of “any non-U.S. persons who engage in international terrorism or preparatory activities.”
The Patriot Act was last renewed in May 2011, when President Obama signed the extension just before a midnight deadline lapsed.