Skip to Content

Government Surveillance

Gutted USA FREEDOM Act Passes, Fight for Improvements Moves to the Senate

Today the House of Representatives passed the USA FREEDOM Act (H.R. 3361) by a large margin.

CDT supported the bill when it was introduced and supported the bill that was approved by the House Judiciary and Intelligence Committees. However, CDT and other civil liberties groups, as well as major tech companies, were all forced to withdraw their support after the USA FREEDOM Act was gutted at the last minute.

“The ban on bulk collection was deliberately watered down to be ambiguous and exploitable,” said CDT Senior Counsel Harley Geiger. “We withdrew support for USA FREEDOM when the bill morphed into a codification of large-scale, untargeted collection of data about Americans with no connection to a crime or terrorism.”

The ban on bulk collection was deliberately watered down to be ambiguous and exploitable.

The USA FREEDOM Act was introduced in response to revelations of mass surveillance by the National Security Agency. As originally introduced and as approved by the House Judiciary and Intelligence Committees, the bill would have established an effective limit on untargeted surveillance. But at the bill’s last stop before the House Floor vote, the House Rules Committee, the prohibition on mass surveillance was radically changed.

“The USA FREEDOM Act only prohibits bulk collection if you define “bulk collection” as nationwide surveillance,” added Geiger. “The USA FREEDOM Act leaves open the possibility for the government to engage in broad surveillance of cities, regions, or even entire states under a single court order, and to obtain records on the Internet traffic of large numbers of people. We cannot support a bill that continues to authorize untargeted surveillance at such a massive scale.”

The bill now moves to the Senate, where Senator Leahy introduced a companion to the original USA FREEDOM Act. “We hope the Senate makes significant improvements to the bill to provide the protections from mass surveillance that the public deserves,” said Geiger.