Yesterday, the House Judiciary Committee voted unanimously (32-0) to pass an amended version of the USA Freedom Act, which would make it illegal for the NSA to engage in the bulk collection of phone records of U.S. citizens as well as business records.
Here is Mother Jones:
The USA Freedom Act, introduced last October, would prohibit bulk collection under the business-records provision of the Patriot Act, the law cited by NSA and Department of Justice officials as giving them authority for the telephone records collection program exposed by leaks from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.Now, cynics might rightly argue that this bill would do nothing more than make sure a rubber-stamping court, FISA, approves individual requests by the NSA to engage in unwarranted surveillance.
The bill would also prohibit bulk collection targeting U.S. residents in parts of another statute, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which the NSA has used largely to target overseas communications. The bill would take the phone records database out of NSA control and leave the records with carriers.
However, despite this critique, the bill as a first step would officially take phone records databases out of the NSA's control.
Edward Snowden should be thanked for this congressional shift – his whistleblowing, and the resulting discussion his leaks about government surveillance have generated, are responsible for what happened yesterday.
He should be thanked, that is, unless the fourth amendment and shielding U.S. citizens from intrusive surveillance are not particularly important.
David Harris-Gershon is author of the memoir What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist Who Tried to Kill Your Wife?, just out from Oneworld Publications.