Yesterday, scores of civil liberties organizations and a coalition representing major Internet companies withdrew support after an aggressive surveillance reform package was significantly altered.
The House of Representatives, with near unanimous support from key congressional security and tech committees, just passed the USA Freedom Act.
“While it makes important progress, we cannot support this bill as currently drafted and urge Congress to close this loophole to ensure meaningful reform,” Reform Government Surveillance said in a statement yesterday, referring to an amendment that gives the NSA more wiggle room in finding targets.
The USA Freedom Act ostensibly ends the government’s bulk collection of phone records; but civil liberty organizations, such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation, worry that ambiguous new wording would let the NSA sneak in too many loopholes.
“The new version not only adds the undefined words ‘address’ and ‘device,’ but makes the list of potential selection terms open-ended by using the term ‘such as.’ Congress has been clear that it wishes to end bulk collection, but given the government’s history of twisted legal interpretations, this language can’t be relied on to protect our freedoms,” the EFF explains.
Representative Jim Sensenbrenner, who helped author the original 9/11 Patriot Act, had become an ardent supporter of NSA reform. “We had to make compromises,” Sensenbrenner said. “But this bill still does deserve support. Don’t make the perfect the enemy of the good.”
The debate now goes to the Senate. But, as I predicted yesterday, there’s too much infighting between Congress and privacy groups for to pass anything meaningful in an election year.
We’ll follow the debate as it moves through Congress.