Why The USA Freedom Act Doesn’t Protect You

Thomas James
RINF Alternative News

The U.S. House of Representatives have passed a controversial modified version of the USA Freedom Act, that will apparently curb NSA surveillance powers. However privacy advocates state the bill allows for the collection of vast amounts of personal data. 

Nuala O’Connor, the Center for Democracy and Technology president, voiced her concerns about the changes.

“This legislation was designed to prohibit bulk collection but has been made so weak that it fails to adequately protect against mass, untargeted collection of Americans’ private information,” she said. “The bill now offers only mild reform and goes against the overwhelming support for definitely ending bulk collection.”

In the wake of the revelations from Edward Snowden about mass surveillance by the NSA, US House Representative Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) wrote the USA FREEDOM Act.

Sensenbrenner, who was the lead author of the USA PATRIOT Act, a controversial anti-terror law, said the NSA had used the USA Patriot Act to overstep its boundaries.

He said he introduced the legislation to end bulk surveillance and increase oversight.

After the bill’s creation, civil liberties groups and some politicians strongly supported its plan to end bulk surveillance, reform the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court’s remit, and modify the allowable use of National Security Letters by the executive.

Within the past few weeks, however, congressional committees modified the bill prior to submitting it for a vote, and many important supporters of the bill called this act foul.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, an organization devoted to protecting fundamental rights regardless of technology, released a statement regarding the changes.

“House Leadership reached an agreement to amend the bipartisan USA FREEDOM Act in ways that severely weaken the bill, potentially allowing bulk surveillance of records to continue,” the organization said. “The Electronic Frontier Foundation cannot support a bill that doesn’t achieve the goal of ending mass spying. We urge Congress to support uncompromising NSA reform.”

Specifically, the EFF does not support the terms under which agency staff can snoop, which includes a number of elements. The EFF’s fear is that the agency will be able to say it is business as usual when it comes to collecting people’s data.

Prior to Congress revising the bill, it was going to include a special advocate in hearings held by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that would give the public’s case in hearings over whether to allow particular target surveillance or not. However, Congress reduced this to having an advocate, if the court decides one is needed.