Wednesday, May 13, 2015

US Congress to vote on bill banning NSA from bulk-collecting phone calls

Less than a week after a US appeals court delivered a stinging legal rebuke to the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of US phone data, the House of Representatives is set to vote on the most domestically controversial of Edward Snowden’s revelations.

Passage on a bipartisan basis is expected for the USA Freedom Act on Wednesday, a bill that seeks to stop the NSA from collecting the metadata of all US phone calls. The White House announced its support for the bill, which faces two-pronged opposition from civil libertarians who consider it insufficient and the GOP Senate leader who seeks to preserve the domestic surveillance.

The USA Freedom Act “strikes an appropriate balance between significant reform and preservation of important national security tools,” the White House said, urging the Senate to “follow suit” on passage.

A version of the bill passed the House by a large margin in last year’s Congress, but failed to overcome a critical threshold during a Senate vote in November. Supporters revived it using the leverage of imminent expiration of a broader surveillance authority.

Absent explicit congressional reauthorization, a controversial provision of the 2001 Patriot Act, known as Section 215, will end next month. The Federal Bureau of Investigation relies on section 215 for access to a wide category of business records for terrorism investigations outside normal subpoena and warrant restrictions. Since 2006, the NSA has relied on section 215 for the ongoing daily collection of all US phone metadata, a practice begun secretly in the weeks after the 9/11 attacks.


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