House to Advance Bill to End Mass NSA Surveillance

The USA Freedom Act, with more than 140 cosponsors, will get a vote in the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday.

Activists protest the surveillance of U.S. citizens by the NSA outside the Justice Department where President Barack Obama gave a major speech on reforming the NSA January 17, 2014.
National Journal
Dustin Volz
May 5, 2014, 9:17 a.m.

A bill that would ef­fect­ively end one of the Na­tion­al Se­cur­ity Agency’s most con­tro­ver­sial spy pro­grams is fi­nally get­ting its day in con­gres­sion­al court.

The House Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee will hold a markup of an amended ver­sion of the USA Free­dom Act on Wed­nes­day, a sur­pris­ing and sud­den move that would es­sen­tially nul­li­fy the gov­ern­ment’s abil­ity to col­lect bulk metadata of Amer­ic­ans’ phone re­cords.

The manuever may also be a counter to plans the House In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee has to push for­ward a com­pet­ing bill that pri­vacy ad­voc­ates say would not go far enough to curb the gov­ern­ment’s sweep­ing sur­veil­lance pro­grams.

In­deed, just hours after the Free­dom Act earned a markup date, the In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee an­nounced it, too, would move for­ward with a markup of its own NSA bill — the FISA Trans­par­ency and Mod­ern­iz­a­tion Act — on Thursday.

The more ag­gress­ive Free­dom Act is sponsored by Rep. Jim Sensen­bren­ner, the one-time mas­ter­mind be­hind the post-9/11 Pat­ri­ot Act, from which both the Obama and Bush ad­min­is­tra­tions have de­rived much of the leg­al au­thor­ity for their sur­veil­lance pro­grams. Sensen­bren­ner, a Wis­con­sin Re­pub­lic­an, has vo­cally con­demned NSA spy­ing since Ed­ward Snowden’s leaks sur­faced last June. The bill has long been sup­por­ted by pri­vacy and civil-liber­ties groups who view it as the best le­gis­lat­ive re­form pack­age in Con­gress.

A man­ager’s amend­ment has been pos­ted to House Ju­di­ciary’s web­site that a source close to the ne­go­ti­ations said is a “com­prom­ise” on the Free­dom Act. The “bi­par­tis­an sub­sti­tute” from House Ju­di­ciary Chair­man Bob Good­latte; Rep. John Con­yers, the pan­el’s top Demo­crat; and oth­ers would pro­hib­it the bulk col­lec­tion of data un­der Sec­tion 215 of the Pat­ri­ot Act but keep in­tact the “rel­ev­ancy” stand­ard for col­lec­tion au­thor­ity. The ori­gin­al Free­dom Act had sought to com­pletely re­write the rel­ev­ancy stand­ard.

But the bill does grant the gov­ern­ment “emer­gency au­thor­ity” to use Sec­tion 215 for “tan­gible things.”

“The at­tor­ney gen­er­al may au­thor­ize the emer­gency pro­duc­tion of tan­gible things, provided that such an ap­plic­a­tion is presen­ted to the court with­in sev­en days,” a sec­tion-by-sec­tion break­down of the amend­ment reads. “If the court denies an emer­gency ap­plic­a­tion, the gov­ern­ment may not use any of the in­form­a­tion ob­tained un­der the emer­gency au­thor­ity ex­cept in in­stances of a threat of death or ser­i­ous bod­ily harm.”

In ad­di­tion, the com­prom­ise lan­guage would ad­opt new stand­ards for na­tion­al se­cur­ity let­ters, which are used by the FBI, and make the For­eign In­tel­li­gence Sur­veil­lance Court more trans­par­ent. The court, which over­sees the NSA’s spy­ing activ­it­ies, has been cri­ti­cized for not be­ing a ro­bust check against the agency.

The bill would also provide com­pan­ies that give the gov­ern­ment ac­cess to its stored metadata some li­ab­il­ity pro­tec­tion and al­low them to seek com­pens­a­tion for com­ply­ing.

The swift move fol­lows a jur­is­dic­tion­al squabble last month between the House Ju­di­ciary and House In­tel­li­gence com­mit­tees. Some Ju­di­ciary mem­bers, who are among the most vo­cal NSA crit­ics in Con­gress, said they were be­ing in­ten­tion­ally side­lined after the House par­lia­ment­ari­an gave primary jur­is­dic­tion of a an­oth­er sur­veil­lance re­form bill to the In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee in­stead of Ju­di­ciary.

In a joint state­ment, sev­er­al Ju­di­ciary mem­bers, in­clud­ing Good­latte, Con­yers, and Sensen­bren­ner, said they “as the com­mit­tee of primary jur­is­dic­tion” on in­tel­li­gence mat­ters have con­cluded that the NSA’s sweep­ing spy pro­grams are need in need of re­form.

“Over the past sev­er­al months, we have worked to­geth­er across party lines and with the ad­min­is­tra­tion and have reached a bi­par­tis­an solu­tion that in­cludes real pro­tec­tions for Amer­ic­ans’ civil liber­ties, ro­bust over­sight, and ad­di­tion­al trans­par­ency, while pre­serving our abil­ity to pro­tect Amer­ica’s na­tion­al se­cur­ity,” the law­makers said. “We look for­ward to tak­ing up this le­gis­la­tion on Wed­nes­day and con­tinu­ing to work with House lead­ers to re­form these pro­grams.”

But the House In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee struck back just as quickly on Monday. Hours after the Ju­di­ciary’s sur­prise, the in­tel­li­gence pan­el an­nounced it would vote on its own NSA bill on Thursday.

In Janu­ary, Pres­id­ent Obama an­nounced his ad­min­is­tra­tion would re­form the way NSA col­lects and stores tele­phone metadata, which in­cludes phone num­bers and call dur­a­tions but not the con­tents of a call, of vir­tu­ally all Amer­ic­ans.

The com­prom­ise lan­guage re­vealed by the House Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee ap­pears to be an at­tempt to align more closely with the way for­ward the pres­id­ent has out­lined. Obama has said he can­not act be­fore Con­gress gives him a bill that closely re­sembles his pre­ferred re­forms.

The Free­dom Act has 143 co­spon­sors in the House and a mir­ror bill in the Sen­ate sponsored by Patrick Leahy, a Ver­mont Demo­crat and chair­man of the Sen­ate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee.

{{ BIZOBJ (video: 4931) }}

What We're Following See More »
WILL ANNOUNCE PICK BEFORE CONVENTION
Trump to Name VP Search Committee
47 minutes ago
THE LATEST

"Donald J. Trump said on Wednesday that he expected to reveal his vice presidential pick sometime in July—before the Republican National Convention in Cleveland—but added that he would soon announce a committee to handle the selection process, which would include Dr. Ben Carson." He said he's inclined to name a traditional political figure, unlike himself.

Source:
AFFECTS WORKERS EARNING MORE THAN $50K
Business, Nonprofits Panicking Over Labor’s New Overtime Rules
50 minutes ago
THE LATEST

"Groups have flocked to the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs to ask for last-minute changes" to the Department of Labor's new overtime rules, which would require that businesses pay overtime to any salaried employee making more than $50,440 per year, up from the current $23,660. Business interests, as well as some nonprofits, say the move could lead to mass change in workers' statuses, from salaried to hourly. "The White House office held 22 meetings on the proposal in April, according to its calendar, and groups say more meetings are planned this week." Last month, National Journal's Alex Brown reported on how the change might affect Washington.

Source:
KAUFMAN, HUNTSMAN ALSO MAY JUMP ON BOARD
Ed Rollins Joins Pro-Trump Super PAC
55 minutes ago
THE LATEST

Republican gun-for-hire Ed Rollins is hopping on the bandwagon, er, the Great America PAC, "an outside group that’s supporting Trump. ... Rollins isn’t the only GOP mainstay coming around to Trump. In recent days, Republican veterans including Republican National Committeeman Ron Kaufman and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman have expressed an openness to him."

Source:
PRESSER IN OHIO THIS AFTERNOON
Report: Kasich Is Bowing Out
1 hours ago
THE LATEST

John Kasich is apparently the last domino to fall on the GOP side. NBC is reporting he's suspending his presidential campaign. His path to the Republican nomination seemed all but impossible—even at a contested convention—but he may have finally given up. The Washington Examiner reports Kasich has canceled a press conference at Dulles Airport, "and will instead hold one in Columbus, Ohio, at 5 p.m."

Source:
CNN/ORC
Clinton Ahead by 13 in Early Going
2 hours ago
THE LATEST

"As Donald Trump captures the mantle of presumptive Republican nominee, a new poll finds he begins his general election campaign well behind Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton. The new CNN/ORC Poll, completed ahead of Trump's victory last night, found Clinton leads 54% to 41%, a 13-point edge over the New York businessman, her largest lead since last July. Clinton is also more trusted than Trump on many issues voters rank as critically important, with one big exception. By a 50% to 45% margin, voters say Trump would do a better job handling the economy than Clinton would."

Source:
×