The House passed controversial NSA spying legislation Thursday, in a vote of 303-121, a version of the USA Freedom Act that has been stripped of privacy protections and transparency requirements after White House intervention during last week's recess. The bill also actually expands "the potential pool of data the National Security Agency can collect."
“It does not deserve the name ‘USA Freedom Act’ any more than the ‘Patriot Act’ merits its moniker,” wrote four former NSA whistleblowers and their old ally on the House intelligence committee staff.Lofgren's amendments were all rejected by the House Rules Committee. The primary issue for privacy and civil liberty advocates, as well as reform-minded lawmakers, is in the restriction on bulk collection of metadata, which has been significantly softened. Under the legislation, intelligence agencies and the Justice Department will no longer be able to vacuum up all metadata from telephone companies, but will have to have "specific selection" requests for more narrow data, and the government would have to go to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance court for an order for a request, except in "emergency" situations.
The former NSA officials—Thomas Drake, William Binney, Edward Loomis and J Kirk Wiebe—and former congressional staffer Diane Roark denounced 11th-hour changes to the Freedom Act as resulting in “a very weak” bill.
“Much legislation has been exploited and interpreted by the administration as permitting activities that Congress never intended,” they wrote in a letter Wednesday to Representative Zoe Lofgren, a California Democrat.
The White House, however, convinced lawmakers to redefine "specific selection" from a uniquely described "person, entity or account" by adding the qualifier "such as" so that the provision reads " a "discrete term, such as a term specifically identifying a person, entity, account, address or device." That expands the potential scope of material the NSA can collect to the point that it's barely a restriction from what they had been doing outside of the law, as shown in the Snowden leaks. The Electronic Frontier Foundation says that this makes the language "too expansive" and allows "for much broader orders than privacy advocates are envisioning." Leading technology companies (Facebook, Google, Microsoft, AOL, Dropbox, Twitter, Yahoo and LinkedIn among others) argue that the revised definition creats an "unacceptable loophole that could enable the bulk collection of internet users' data."
That's, thankfully, just the House. On the Senate side, Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT) says that he will continue to push for the stronger reform that have been removed from the House version.