Freedom Act aims to eliminate NSA's bulk data collection, spying on average Americans


A member of CodePink protests as Director of the National Security Agency Gen. Keith Alexander, right, breaks from a hearing before the House Select Intelligence Committee on October 29, 2013 in Washington, DC. The committee held a hearing on potential changes to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.


Alex Wong

Saying the United States lost its way in the Patriot Act’s efforts to safeguard against another 9/11, two lawmakers introduced legislation on Tuesday to protect average Americans from spying by their own country.

Called the USA Freedom Act, it was introduced into the Senate and House simultaneously by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wisc.).

They are calling for “real reform” in light of National Security Agency tactics and the sweeping power of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

“No one underestimates the threat this country continues to face, and we can all agree that the intelligence community should be given necessary and appropriate tools to help keep us safe,” Leahy said in his introduction to the act. “But we should also agree that there must be reasonable limits on the surveillance powers we give to the government.”

Primarily, the Freedom Act wants to ban the NSA or other bodies from using FISA to collect telephone records.

Sensenbrenner was instrumental in creating the Patriot Act in 2001, but he said Washington must prove to the people they can trust their government again.

“Somewhere along the way, the balance between security and privacy was lost,” Sensenbrenner said on his website. “It’s now time for the judiciary committees to again come together in a bipartisan fashion to ensure the law is properly interpreted, past abuses are not repeated and American liberties are protected.”

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According to The Guardian’s analysis of the act, it contains six significant aims:

1. End the bulk collection of metadata. Security agents like the NSA would have to prove their looking for a specific target, and that target is involved with a foreign power.

2. End the practise of creating “secret laws” while requiring the FISA court to report decisions related to construction or interpretation of law.

3. Internet, tech or telephone companies could report the number of FISA court orders they receive and some details of those orders.

4. Creating a FISA court ombudsman who could act in the public interest.

5. Stop intelligence agencies from “reverse targeting,” a practice that might allow spying on Americans.

6. Tighten “pen register and trap-and-trace” loopholes that would allow the government to start over using different agencies.

The American Civil Liberties Union is backing the bill.

“Although the USA Freedom Act does not fix every problem with the government's surveillance authorities and programs, it is an important first step and it deserves broad support,” the ACLU’s Michelle Richardson wrote online.

“All members of the House and Senate should co-sponsor the USA Freedom Act and fight hard for its passage.”

The full text of the Freedom Act is available online.

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