Can mass surveillance be stopped before it’s too late?

A House committee advanced major legislation Thursday that would effectively end the National Security Agency’s bulk vacuuming of American phone records, a lurch forward for surveillance reform that comes as key spying authorities are a month away from expiring.

The House Judiciary Committee passed without amendments the USA Freedom Act 25-2, an endorsement that comes just two days after the bipartisan legislation was reintroduced in both chambers of Congress.

snowdenThe panel’s quick approval of the bill reflects the speed with which lawmakers hope to get it to the president’s desk in the coming weeks. That urgency is due to the expiration of three key provisions of the Patriot Act on June 1, including Section 215, which the NSA uses to justify its mass surveillance of U.S. call data.

Many of the bill’s backers privately concede it is unlikely Congress will adopt stringent limitations to the NSA’s spying apparatus if an agreement is not worked out before that fast-approaching deadline. But House leadership has indicated the Freedom Act has its support, and that it may earn a floor vote as soon as next week.

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