The House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday approved legislation that would stop the National Security Agency from its bulk collection of Americans' phone data, the latest step to rein in NSA activities that were revealed by former contractor turned whistleblower Edward Snowden.
The committee passed the USA Freedom Act, a move that could allow the bill to come to the floor in the coming weeks. The committee approved it in a unanimous 32-0 vote.
The NSA's data center in Utah. A House committee voted Wednesday to scale back the NSA's bulk phone data collection activities. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)
Aside from ending the NSA's bulk data collection, the bill would also create a new privacy advocate at the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court, which approves surveillance activities, and would require the executive branch to inform Congress about all new interpretations of the USA Patriot Act.
Supporters on both sides said it's time to put new controls over the NSA, which overestimated its authority under the Patriot Act.
"Last year's unauthorized disclosures by Edward Snowden revealed to the American people that the National Security Agency, as part of its mission to protect the United States from terrorist attacks, had been collecting bulk telephony 'metadata' under Section 215," Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) said. "Since the unauthorized public release of this program, many members of Congress and their constituents have expressed concern about how the program is operated and whether it poses a threat to Americans' civil liberties and privacy."
Goodlatte noted that President Barack Obama in January said he also wanted to see the end of bulk collection of data, and said Congress must act to make these changes.
"The House Judiciary Committee is taking the first important step towards this goal today," Goodlatte said.
Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), the ranking member of the committee, agreed that the bill is an historic step to bring a better balance between security and privacy.
"This manager's amendment … remains by far the most important step taken to roll back the government's surveillance of United States citizens since the passage of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978," he said. "This committee now stands poised to end domestic bulk collection across the board."
Before the committee's final vote, members rejected a proposal from Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) that would allow phone companies to hold data for a longer period of time, in case the government needed it for national security reasons.
But the committee accepted language that would let companies report twice each year on requests for information made by the U.S. government. That proposal from Rep. Suzan DelBene (D-Wash.) easily passed with no opposition.