Though the overwhelming and bipartisan passage of the USA Freedom Act in the House of Representatives on Wednesday portends the end of the NSA’s mass collection of Americans’ private telephone records, civil liberties groups found little else to celebrate as the ultimate passage of the bill, which now heads to the Senate, would re-authorize a number of worrisome programs by extending the life of the controversial Patriot Act.
“This is a fake privacy bill. Corrupt members of Congress and their funders in the defense industry are attempting to package up their surveillance-powers wishlist and misleadingly brand it as ‘USA Freedom.’ This is disappointing and offensive, and we will continue to work to kill this bill and any other attempt to legitimize unconstitutional surveillance systems.”
—Tiffiniy Cheng, Fight for the Future
Following a federal court ruling last week that deemed a provision of the Patriot Act, known as Section 215, as not a sound legal basis for the bulk phone data collection program, H.R. 2048, which passed the House by a vote of 338-88, would put a definitive end to the practice that was first revealed to the American public by documents leaked by whistleblower Edward Snowden in 2013. However, despite strong objections from critics, the bill reauthorized Section 215 for other uses and would expanded other surveillance mechanisms and powers for government agencies.
Though some progressive groups found it possible to support the bill for its strong stance against the domestic phone records program, tougher critics said that though they welcome the end of that specific program, the USA Freedom Act’s re-authorization of broader Patriot Act powers could not be ignored.