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Revised USA FREEDOM Act Lacks Transparency and Strong Special Advocate

A weakened version of the USA Freedom Act unanimously passed through the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday and reportedly was approved today by the House Permanent Committee on Intelligence—clearing the way for the bill to be debated on the House Floor.

But the bill omits critical government reporting requirements included in the original USA FREEDOM Act as introduced by Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wisc.) and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.).  

POGO Executive Director Danielle Brian said: “We are deeply troubled that much-needed reforms to shine a light on surveillance activities were not considered by House Judiciary yesterday. We cannot expect this bill to protect privacy and civil liberties while the public and Congress continue to be in the dark about the policies in practice.” Executive Director Patrice McDermott said: “The revised USA Freedom Act omits some of the most crucial provisions of the original bill. We applaud the committees’ unanimous agreement that bulk collection must end. But given revelations that the government was using section 215 of the PATRIOT Act to justify actions that Congress did not intend to authorize, we cannot simply trust that the program has ended.”

The Constitution Project's Senior Counsel Katherine Stern said: “The bill also weakens the proposal for a civil liberties advocate at the secret FISC Court, providing only for a panel of advisors to be employed entirely at the Court’s discretion. We need an authentic advocate for the public with a mandate to represent us whenever the Court considers broad questions of rights." 

The original USA FREEDOM Act required public annual reports from the government that included the total or a good faith estimate of the number of individuals and U.S. persons included in various domestic surveillance activities. It also required public reports every six months on the total number of requests using National Security Letters. The revised version leaves out all of these reporting requirements—and leaves the American public without a reliable way to determine whether the National Security Agency (NSA) has access to their phone, e-mail, and other electronic records.

An amendment to allow for more reporting by private companies was passed by the committee. But McDermott says that is insufficient. “We must know how many Americans’ personal information is being stored and analyzed in the NSA’s databases, in order to verify that bulk collection has ended,” McDermott said.

Leahy expressed disappointment that the bill did not include “important reforms related to national security letters, a strong special advocate at the FISA Court, and greater transparency.” He announced that he will continue to push for the missing reforms when his Senate Judiciary Committee considers the USA FREEDOM Act this summer.

Brian said, “We urge Congress to ensure the basic government transparency provisions included in the original bill are in any final surveillance reform legislation.”

By: Angela Canterbury
Director of Public Policy, POGO

angela canterbury Angela Canterbury is Director of Public Policy for the Project On Government Oversight.

Topics: National Security

Related Content: Government Secrecy, Surveillance, Information Access, Intelligence

Authors: Angela Canterbury

Submitted by bk at: May 12, 2014
Thank you. The only main stream outlet that mentioned USA Freedom Act was the Christian Scientist Monitor and Voice of Russia.
Submitted by Anonymous at: May 11, 2014
Restore the public reporting requirements to the USA Freedom Act.
Submitted by Tigermac at: May 11, 2014
The problem with the NSA, Senate, Congress, Supreme Court chief justices and all other government agencies is the lack of standard punishment for various crimes, punishments that fit the crimes. Of course the NSA is trying to get away with covering up their crimes by having little or no transparency, they are just getting their hands slapped, and no one is being fired and hauled off to jail, they have no incentives to do the right thing. We have five chief justices on the US Supreme Court using their majority votes for the purpose of helping Wall Street to take control of our country, a republican majority in congress using their votes to help Wall Street to control of this country. Both the five Chief Justices and the republican controlled congress no longer work for all the people, just the rich and Wall Street, they are traitors to our country and trying to over throw the current government, and nothing is being done about them, we should have laws to impeach and imprison them. The same should happen to those US Supreme Court Chief Justices, they should be impeached and put in prison for treason. This why our country is in such bad shape, there are no standard and unconditional penalties for these crimes, and no one who cares enough about this country to do anything.
Submitted by Underledge at: May 10, 2014
How many people in their right mind actually think the government will change the way they do business? You have a much better chance in seeing Frosty the Snowman come back in the middle of July.
Submitted by Retortnegid at: May 10, 2014
Of, by, and for...the people, means we oversee-not the sly, anti-Constitutional wolves.
Submitted by sunny733 at: May 10, 2014
Well, is there a petition that can be circulated and given to people so that we can do a little something about it. People are waking up to this surveillance crap, and a lot are very angry about it. Thank you and peace.

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