Since Congress failed to pass the USA FREEDOM Act (H.R. 2048) before Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act expired, we’re left wondering where this leaves us and, more importantly, what’s next for U.S. surveillance reform.
Where are We Now:
Over the weekend, the Senate voted 77-17 to end debate and advance the USA FREEDOM Act of 2015. While the Senate was unable to reach a deal by midnight, the bill overcame key procedural hurdles that place it on a speedy track for passage. Having already gained the support of the House of Representatives – with a vote of 338-88 – and the Obama Administration, the Senate is the last obstacle to passing the USA FREEDOM Act and taking small steps to address problems with U.S. surveillance laws.
This legislation is not a complete remedy, but it puts us on a path to true reform, increasing transparency protections and reining in the National Security Agency (NSA). As of midnight, three key provisions of the PATRIOT Act expired leaving our government with limited national surveillance powers. Some are celebrating too soon, believing the expiration of these provisions strips the NSA of its authority to collect certain data from communications companies in bulk. This is not true; there are other laws, particularly the FISA Amendments Act passed in 2008 by Congress, that the NSA can use to justify mass surveillance.
This is why the USA FREEDOM Act is important. It will end the overreach of the NSA, and – through increased transparency – help to restore consumer trust in U.S. businesses. Restoring this consumer trust is particularly important for those businesses who offer products and services in the the Cloud and mobile economies. These businesses are still plagued by aftershocks from the discovery of NSA’s mass surveillance programs to the detriment of their global competitiveness and ability to add jobs to our economy.
Currently, the Senate is considering a number of amendments that would weaken the USA FREEDOM Act, putting American businesses and consumers at risk. We urge the Senate to pass the USA FREEDOM Act unamended, ensuring significant reform and a quick process.