Senate Passes USA Freedom Act, Bill Headed to President

Today, the Senate overwhelmingly passed the USA Freedom Act, a bill passed by the House last month that ends the NSA’s bulk collection of Americans’ telephone records. The bill now heads to President Obama for his signature. Elizabeth Goitein and Faiza Patel, co-directors of the Liberty and National Security Program at the Brennan Center for Justice, are available for your coverage.

“For the first time since 9/11, Congress has placed significant limits on the government’s ability to spy on Americans,” said Elizabeth Goitein. “Once signed into law, the USA Freedom Act will end the NSA’s indiscriminate collection of Americans’ phone records. If faithfully implemented, it will also narrow the collection of other types of business records under Section 215 and other foreign intelligence authorities. It will introduce a measure of transparency into FISA Court decisions and give the court’s judges the option of conducting more balanced proceedings.”

“These reforms are important first steps, but that does not mean Congress can wash its hands of these issues and move on,” Goitein added. “Congress must vigilantly monitor the executive branch’s implementation of this law to ensure that the law’s intent is respected. Congress also must address the question of what happens to all the information about innocent Americans that will continue to be collected ‘incidentally’ under these and other authorities. Most crucially, Congress must turn to the mass surveillance programs not touched by the USA Freedom Act, including the collection of international calls and e-mails under Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act and Executive Order 12333.”

“This is the first time since 9/11 that Congress has agreed to roll back the extraordinary authorities that were enacted in the wake of the attacks,” said Faiza Patel. “They have responded to their constituents who are deeply troubled by the NSA’s dragnet collection of phone records, a federal appeals court that recently found the program illegal, and various reviews that showed it had minimal counter-terrorism value. But this should not be the end of reform. We already know of many NSA programs that affect Americans’ privacy as much as Section 215 of the Patriot Act and there are undoubtedly others that have not yet come to light. Congress must move quickly and seriously to review and reform those as well.”