On Thursday, a bill that would overhaul the Patriot Act and curtail the so-called metadata surveillance exposed by Edward J. Snowden was overwhelmingly passed by the House Judiciary Committee and was heading to almost certain passage in that chamber this month.The legislation would end bulk collection, but still request that phone companies hold on to records that would have to be accessed with a court order. So that still allows for a more narrow or targeted collection, the bill's authors say, and would still allow for the tracking of U.S. residents in communication with suspected terrorists.
An identical bill in the Senate—introduced with the support of five Republicans—is gaining support over the objection of Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, who is facing the prospect of his first policy defeat since ascending this year to majority leader. […]
The debate has resulted in a highly unusual alliance of House Speaker John A. Boehner, the White House, the Tea Party and a bipartisan majority in the House. They are in opposition to Mr. McConnell, his Intelligence Committee chairman, and a small group of defense hawks. In addition, two Republican presidential candidates in the Senate, Ted Cruz of Texas and Rand Paul of Kentucky, have made it clear they will not accept a straight extension of the current Patriot Act.
The big question is how much leeway is still going to be included in that "narrower" collection program. When it comes to actually calling records, it does seem to narrow the process down enough to "ensure only specific individuals, accounts, and devices qualify as specific selection terms." Selection terms are what the NSA uses to query a database, or set up a collection system. But beyond calling records, the legislation seems to allow for broader selection terms. This version of the legislation has also lost the "super minimization" requirements in last year's version of the bill, which very narrowly failed in the Senate. Minimization is the requirement that any collected information that doesn't pertain directly to an investigation be deleted. Those procedures weren't included this time and should be in the amendment process on either side of the Hill.
The bill is certainly better than McConnell's alternative, but could be made an awful lot stronger in the amendment process. In fact, Section 215—the provision that the FISA court interpreted to allow for bulk collection—should be allowed to sunset as the original law's authors intended.