Reid Pushes for Vote On USA Freedom Act

Bill Would Reform Government Surveillance of Phone, 'Net

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is working toward a floor vote on the USA Freedom Act, the bill introduced by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) in July.

“The American people are wondering whether Congress can get anything done,” Leahy said late Wednesday (Nov. 12) after Reid moved to end debate (invoking cloture) and proceed to a floor vote.  “The answer is yes.  Congress can and should take up and pass the bipartisan USA FREEDOM Act, without delay.”

The Act reforms government surveillance of public communications, including by increasing transparency and public reporting. It is meant to rein in the kind of bulk data collection by government agencies exposed by leaker Edward Snowden, and would affect telco and cable companies.

The House on May 22 passed its version of the bill, which was supported by the President. It would further restrict the data collected from communications companies by the NSA and other intelligence agencies, as well as boost transparency and reporting requirements for targeted data requests, require more specificity in those requests, and minimize retention and dissemination of nonpublic data.

Rather than have the government sweep and store the data, agencies would make specific requests for data the telecoms already store as part of their business. The House-passed bill has no mandated retention period, which some feared could be the law's undoing in the Senate.

The President announced his own modifications to the data collection regime last March following revelations related to the NSA leaks.

“The legal reforms in the USA Freedom Act send a clear signal to U.S. citizens and Internet users around the world that Congress is serious about reforming government surveillance practices, and providing the judiciary and the public with tools that allow better oversight over remaining narrowed programs," said Ed Black, president of the Computer & Communications Industry Association. "The USA Freedom Act closes key loopholes on bulk call data collection and offers greater transparency, which is essential for citizens in a free democracy."