The House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday will consider a bipartisan bill that would stop the National Security Agency from the bulk collection of phone data, an activity that riled up millions of Americans when it was disclosed through a leak by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
The committee will consider the USA Freedom Act on Wednesday afternoon, which would also require intelligence agencies to more aggressively filter out data from Americans that is accidentally captured.
The bill has bipartisan support in both the House and Senate, and shows the depth of support for ending the NSA action that most saw as a serious violation of privacy. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) in particular has argued that the NSA has far exceeded its authority by capturing data from millions of Americans without having a specific warrant on most of them.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Pat Leahy (D-Vt.), the Senate sponsor of the bill, said when it was introduced last year that NSA’s authority under the Patriot Act needs to be significantly curtailed.
“It is time for serious and meaningful reforms so we can restore confidence in our intelligence community,” Leahy said. “Modest transparency and oversight provisions are not enough.”
Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), the lead House sponsor, said that the NSA’s activities show that years after passage of the USA Patriot Act, “the balance between security and privacy was lost.”
“It’s now time for the judiciary committees to again come together in a bipartisan fashion to ensure the law is properly interpreted, past abuses are not repeated and American liberties are protected,” he said. “Washington must regain Americans’ trust in their government.”
Aside from ending bulk data collection, the legislation would create a privacy advocate who would argue for the privacy rights of Americans at the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court, which has the power to authorize or scuttle proposed surveillance activities.
It would also require the U.S. attorney general to disclose all Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court rulings that create significant new interpretations of the Patriot Act, especially those that could be seen as leading to new privacy violations. And, it would require more reporting to Congress on activities under the law.
Approval by the Judiciary Committee could set up considering of the bill on the House floor in the coming weeks. After that, it would have to be considered in the Senate before going to the White House for President Obama’s signature into law.