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The House of Representatives voted Wednesday afternoon to ban the wholesale collection of phone records data by the National Security Agency (NSA).
The House voted overwhelmingly — 338-to-88 — to pass the USA Freedom Act, which contains language that keeps phone record metadata (call dates and times, but not call content) off-limits to government agencies.
Before the vote Wednesday, Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) said the bill would “protect our foreign intelligence capabilities,” according to The Washington Post. Boener predicted the bill would pass easily.
Meanwhile some Republican members of the Senate remain unconvinced that the existing law governing phone surveillance — the Patriot Act — needs revision. These people believe that the practice of gathering phone records metadata is crucial to national defense.
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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), for example, has his own plans to extend the NSA’s current authority.
The NSA has taken its authority to collect phone records from Section 215 of the 2001 Patriot Act. But that provision will expire on June 1, along with the legal authorization for a host of other security and surveillance programs. So Congress is eager to get a replacement bill passed.
Many others had hoped that the Patriot Act would simply be allowed to expire.
“The Patriot Act has been at the root of many of the most serious abuses of government spying powers,” said Anthony D. Romero, executive director of the ACLU in a statement. “We need to have a serious debate about the effectiveness of the Patriot Act and its implications for civil liberties. Until that happens, Congress should let Section 215 of the Patriot Act expire with the whimper it deserves.”
Congress included sunset provisions in the original Patriot Act because the legislation was drafted quickly and it was understood that these sections would need to be revisited once more was known about their implications for civil liberties.
Google released a statement shortly after the vote communicating its own reasons for supporting the new legislation.
“[The new bill] allows companies like Google to disclose national security demands with greater granularity, and creates new accountability and oversight mechanisms,” said Google’s VP of public policy and government affairs Susan Molinari in a blog post.
Google has resisted government requests for access to user data, and has sought ways to make the requests more public.
“The bill’s authors have worked hard to forge a bipartisan consensus, and the bill approved today is supported by the Obama Administration, including the intelligence community,” Molinari adds.
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