The House has passed the USA Freedom Act, which restricts indiscriminate bulk collection of data by the NSA in an ongoing effort to reform government mass surveillance programs.
The compromise bill, which reauthorizes the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), now goes to the Senate, which must pass it and the President sign it by a March 15 deadline. The USA Freedom Act was first adopted in 2015 to end the bulk data collection under the USA Patriot Act. The USA Freedom Act must be periodically renewed by Congress or some provisions expire.
The NSA got authority to conduct bulk metadata surveillance under Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act, one of the tools created by Congress after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, when an inability to link cellphone calls between terrorists was cited as an intelligence failure that needed correcting.
The bill did not end bulk collection, but narrowed what could be collected, added some transparency about how it was done, left the information in the hands of phone companies rather than on government servers, provided some liability protection for companies that let the government inspect the metadata, and provided for at least the possibility of challenging the FISA court on a decision to allow surveillance.
Attorney General William Barr said he had reviewed the new USA Freedom bill and supported passage.
"The bill contains an array of new requirements and compliance provisions that will protect against abuse and misuse in the future while ensuring that this critical tool is available when appropriate to protect the safety of the American people," Barr said.
Barr said the bill deserves bipartisan support.