A bill to end the National Security Agency’s mass collection of telephone records passed unanimously in the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee.
A few congressional staffers told VentureBeat it’s unlikely that Congress will actually pass any big, meaningful legislation until after the midterm elections this fall. But the unanimous passage of a bill to end bulk surveillance is a very telling sign of Congress’ (eventual) willingness to change the government’s spying practices.
“The new version of the USA Freedom Act is a strong first step to undoing the damage of the government’s tortured interpretation of the Patriot Act,” wrote digital civil liberties watchdog the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
The USA Freedom Act would follow the recommendation of President Obama’s own surveillance oversight group, which is handing the collection of bulk telephone records to the telecommunications companies themselves, rather than the NSA. The bill would also require judicial approval to search phone numbers.
According to the National Journal, the committee voted down an amendment offered by former Microsoft VP Susan DelBene to allow more flexibility in how tech companies report requests for user data.
“This legislation should provide stronger transparency provisions to ensure that users know, with as much granularity as possible, how and when the government issues orders for user data and how many accounts are affected,” argues the EFF.
Right now, tech companies report the number of user requests in large bands (1-9,999 users). It’s good for knowing whether the government is looking at thousands or millions of users, but we don’t know if the total number of requests are going up or down.
Also, the NSA reportedly collects vast amounts of data without the companies’ knowledge, such as tapping undersea cables. So Google’s transparency reports still leave a lot to the imagination.