Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) introduced a new version of the USA Freedom Act on Tuesday, a bill intended to protect Americans’ phone records and other personal information. The original bill was passed by the House in May.
As a result of the fallout from former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden’s release of confidential information and revelations regarding NSA policy, President Barack Obama asked Congress in January to curb the massive data collection policies in place by the NSA.
The House bill passed in May, while effective in addressing these concerns, was criticized by many as being too vague and lenient, which led to Leahy’s aggressive changes. One of the main concerns voiced by detractors of the House’s bill was the vague definition of “specific selection term,” which could potentially lead to mass information gathering based on broad characteristics such as geographic location. However, Leahy’s bill would tighten up this definition, preventing the government from collecting all data from a particular service provider or a broad geographic area.
Leahy’s version of the bill would lead to more transparency in NSA practices, as it would require the government to report the number of individuals whose information has been collected. It would also give private companies four options to record the number of government requests received. Additionally, only Leahy’s version of the bill would set limits to how much data the NSA could search for.
“If enacted, this bill would represent the most significant reform of government surveillance authorities since Congress passed the USA Patriot Act 13 years ago,” said Leahy. “This is a debate about Americans’ fundamental relationship with their government--about whether our government should have the power to create massive databases of information about its citizens.”
The introduction of this version of the bill is less than ideal--Congress is scheduled to begin a five-week recess on Friday, and the bill would likely not be voted on before September. Although deliberation on the bill is likely a few weeks off, the bill is a major stepping stone for those with privacy concerns and shows signs of tremendous progress in the fight for privacy. ♦