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House Judiciary Committee and Intelligence Committee to Move on NSA Reforms

The House Judiciary Committee took up a bill that aims to close loopholes that permit the government to collect Americans’ data in bulk. But more work needs to be ensure the content of American’s communications.

May 7, 2014

The House Judiciary Committee is expected to approve a compromise bill today that combines aspects of the USA FREEDOM Act, sponsored by Rep. Sensenbrenner, and a more conservative NSA reform bill that will be marked up in the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence later this week. The House intelligence committee also plans to mark up the compromise bill, as announced this morning.

“The compromise bill could break the logjam between the USA FREEDOM Act and the rival intelligence committee bills in both the House and Senate,” said Goitein. The bill aims to end the bulk collection of Americans’ telephone records by the NSA and prohibit other types of bulk collection by requiring any records obtained to be linked to a “specific selection term,” defined as a person, account, or entity. The government could still obtain an order from the secret FISA Court to collect individuals’ phone records, as well as people two “hops” removed from those individuals, where relevant to a terrorism investigation.

Unlike the original USA FREEDOM Act, however, the compromise bill would not end “back door searches.” Under this practice, the government collects the content of phone and e-mail communications without a warrant based on a pledge that it is “targeting” foreigners overseas, but then searches these communications for communications to, from, or about Americans.

“The House Judiciary Committee’s bill takes an important step forward by banning the bulk collection of all types of records, not just the Section 215 phone metadata program,” Goitein said. “It also keeps the critical protection of judicial pre-approval, which the House intelligence committee bill would eliminate. Nonetheless, work remains to be done to ensure that this bill protects the content of Americans’ communications as well as the metadata.”

“This bill is still much better than what has come out of the House Intelligence Committee,” German said. “But the devil is in the details. With so much still unknown about how these programs operate and how surveillance laws are interpreted, we’re trying to put a puzzle together with missing pieces. We need clear laws with bright lines protecting our privacy to restore public trust in the intelligence agencies.”

For more information on the NSA’s bulk collection program, see our NSA Resource page.