The business records provision of the Patriot Act, known as Section 215, is scheduled to expire on June 1st. It’s the legal basis for the NSA’s collection of telephone metadata inside American borders. A few days ago the House Judiciary Committee proudly announced that it had approved a bill, (HR 2048/S.1123) the USA Freedom Act of 2015, which alters the provisions of Section 215. The Judiciary Committee claims that their proposed legislation “ends bulk collection.” At best this is a mischaracterization that flagrantly ignores additional surveillance laws.
According to language of the bill the revisions defined by the USA Freedom Act would narrow business record collection by restricting the “selection term” used to request call records to “an individual, account, or personal device.” In other words instead of requesting call record metadata from “everyone in the state of Ohio” government spies would be forced to explicitly limit the terms of their request to something like “John Q. Smith’s cellphone”.
Though your author wonders if an Internet backbone router counts as a personal device.
The case for curbing phone record collection is fairly strong. Section 215 of the Patriot Act was ostensibly instituted in an effort to combat terrorism. Yet there’s very little evidence to suggest that vacuuming up telephone meta-data is useful as a way to prevent terrorism. In fact, Ed Snowden states for the record that it has more to do with imposing “social control.”