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Government Surveillance

House Leadership Moves To Gut USA FREEDOM Act

Today, the Leadership of the House of Representatives gave the green light to an
amendment to the USA FREEDOM Act that would significantly weaken the bill’s ban
on the government’s bulk collection of data, despite the broader consensus that
bulk collection must end. The Center for Democracy & Technology (CDT) and other
civil liberties groups long supported the USA FREEDOM Act, but have withdrawn
their support for the House version of the bill.

“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. The bill now offers only mild reform and goes
against the overwhelming support for definitively ending bulk collection,” said
CDT President and CEO Nuala O’Connor.

The bill now offers only mild reform and goes
against the overwhelming support for definitively ending bulk collection.

“The Leadership of the House is demonstrating that it wants to end the debate
about surveillance, rather than end bulk collection,” said Harley Geiger, CDT
Senior Counsel. “As amended, the bill may not prevent collection of data on a
very large scale in a manner that infringes upon the privacy of Americans with
no connection to a crime or terrorism. This is quite disappointing given the
consensus by the public, Congress, the President, and two independent review
groups that ending bulk collection is necessary,” Geiger added.

The USA FREEDOM Act was introduced as multi-prong response to a variety of
problems revealed through disclosure of NSA surveillance activities, notably the
controversial practice of collecting in bulk the records of hundreds of millions
of phone calls to, from and within the US, which the bill banned. The bill
received the strong support of a broad, bipartisan coalition of advocacy
organizations, as well as major tech companies. Earlier this month the House
Judiciary Committee amended the bill to remove many other reforms, but voted to
include a clear prohibition on bulk collection of telephone call records and of
other records under other intelligence authorities. The amended version of the
USA FREEDOM Act passed unanimously out of the House Judiciary and Intelligence

Today, House Leadership, acting through the Rules Committee and in cooperation
with the Obama Administration, approved a manager’s amendment to USA FREEDOM
that makes significant changes to the bill it comes to the House Floor for a

“The USA FREEDOM Act was a strong reform measure when it was introduced. The
bill was watered down in the House Judiciary Committee, but it was still an
effective prohibition on bulk collection,” said CDT Senior Counsel Harley
Geiger. “Unfortunately, the version of the USA FREEDOM Act that will reach the
House Floor will be so weakened that it may continue to allow mass, untargeted
collection of Americans’ private records in the future. This is not the reform
the world sought.”