Today the House passed H.R. 2048, the USA Freedom Act by a vote of 338–88. I supported this bill because it makes important and needed reforms to how intelligence agencies such as the NSA collect and store information while also ensuring that Americans’ right to privacy is protected.
Section 215 of the Patriot Act has been one of the most controversial parts of that legislation passed in the wake of 9/11. It has allowed for the government to collect and store indefinitely massive amounts of personal information on Americans and foreign nationals alike even when these individuals had nothing to do with an ongoing investigation.
H.R. 2048 would amend Section 215 and prohibit the federal government from collecting several types of bulk information about Americans, including telephone metadata. It also ensures that when the federal government must collect information related to counterterrorism investigations it does so based on reasonable suspicion, a court order from the FISA courts authorizing it to legally do so, and using what is known as a “specific selection term” (i.e. like a search term used in a search engine) to limit the type of material that is collected during its investigation.
H.R. 2048 also requires the government to destroy any data collected under Section 215 unless it is specifically related to an ongoing counterterrorism investigation — this is called data minimization. Further, the legislation includes provisions that would declassify and make public FISA court decisions; allow for a panel of experts to advise the FISA court on how their decision allowing the federal government to collect information could impact the privacy and civil liberties of US citizens; and permit companies to make public the number of times they have been asked by the government to share data in relation to investigations.
There are shortcomings to this bill. I offered an amendment to this bill with my colleagues that would prohibit the federal government from requiring the placement of surveillance “backdoors” on their products. This amendment was not made in order and did not receive a vote. I will continue to work with my colleagues to address this shortcoming in the bill.
Additionally, the bill does not include strong data minimization steps for foreign nationals. The bill does not require the government to delete all collected phone records of foreigners not directly tied to investigations. I hope that this is a change that we can pursue in the future.
While I there is still much work to be done to comprehensively reform the Patriot Act, H.R. 2048 will make significant progress in promoting the privacy of Americans.