USA Freedom Act may do what it says – partially

You might have heard: last week Senator Leahy introduced a bill that would put new limits on NSA surveillance. If the USA FREEDOM Act of 2014 (S. 2685) passes, it will be the first law to limit the NSA’s spying power in almost thirty years.

The new Senate version of the USA FREEDOM Act would:

  • End the NSA’s illegal collection of millions of Americans’ telephone records by amending one of the worst provisions of the PATRIOT Act, Section 215
  • Create a panel of special advocates that can argue for privacy and civil liberties in front of the FISA Court, the secret court that approves the NSA’s surveillance plans
  • Provide new reporting requirements so that the NSA is forced to tell us how many people are actually being surveilled under its programs, including the program that allows the NSA to see the contents of Americans’ communications without a warrant

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is skeptical when Congress tries to pass legislation that affects our online rights, and are more cautious when it comes to bills that are aimed at secretive national security practices. This bill is no exception. They recognize that this bill is imperfect: it fails to address many of the problems of NSA surveillance (such as the NSA’s practice of tapping the links between Google and Yahoo’s data centers) while providing only partially fixes for other surveillance problems (like exempting the FBI from some the important reporting requirements). It also has several provisions that could be misused in ways that will be difficult to detect.

Real victory will be when the NSA ends all of its practices of mass surveillance, stops seeking secret legal interpretations about laws that affect all of us, respects the privacy rights of Internet users regardless of their nationality, ceases its campaign to undermine international encryption standards and respects the Constitution.

The USA FREEDOM Act is a step down the path toward that victory. It addresses several of the NSA’s current bad practices and does several things—including changes to the FISA Court and increased reporting—we could not reasonably accomplish by litigation alone. If Americans mobilize to support the bill, Americans can show Congress and the world that the anti-surveillance movement is able to organize in defense of our rights and we’ll create space and political momentum for future reforms in Congress and elsewhere.