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USA Freedom Act moves forward as House prepares for vote

It's not perfect, but could soon head to Senate

By Shaun Nichols, 13 May 2015

Updated The USA Freedom Act is currently being debated by the House of Representatives and could come up for a vote in hours that would move the surveillance bill one step closer to becoming law.

The bill, which failed last year but has since picked up a wave of bipartisan support, passed out of committee earlier this month. Supporters of the bill say it will enact changes to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) that will end mass collection of personal data without court approval.

Among its backers is President Obama, who yesterday issued a statement (PDF) urging the House to pass the bill.

"The bill strengthens the FISA's privacy and civil liberties protections, while preserving essential authorities our intelligence and law enforcement professionals need to protect the Nation," the White House wrote.

"The bill would implement various reforms, including prohibiting bulk collection through the use of Section 215, FISA pen registers, and National Security Letters, while maintaining authorities to conduct more targeted collection."

Not everyone, however, is enamored with the USA Freedom Act. The EFF has come out against the bill, in particular the decision by lawmakers to forbid any amendments or updates to its text.

"There are numerous ways to strengthen the USA Freedom Act through amendments that would increase protections for the rights and freedoms of technology users," the the EFF writes "The House is missing out on a pivotal moment to improve the legislative text."

Still others are complaining that the act doesn't go far enough. Sen Bob Corker (R-TN) said that the NSA should, if anything, be gathering more data on US citizens.

"It's beyond belief how little data is a part of the program," Corker said. ®

Update

The USA Freedom Act passed through the House by a 338-88 vote. Among those casting 'nay' votes on the measure was Rep Ted Lieu (D-CA), who offered the following:

While I appreciate a number of the reforms in the bill and understand the need for secure counter-espionage and terrorism investigations, I believe our nation is better served by allowing Section 215 to expire completely and replacing it with a measure that finds a better balance between national security interests and protecting the civil liberties of Americans.

The bill will now move on to the Senate.

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