US House committee votes to end NSA's bulk metadata collection program

US House committee votes to end NSA's bulk metadata collection program

Summary: The US House Judiciary Committee said the move "takes us one step closer to ending bulk collection once and for all and safeguards Americans' civil liberties."

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(Image: CNET/CBS Interactive)

Lawmakers in the US House have unanimously voted to end the National Security Agency's bulk phone metadata collection program.

Members of Congress were voting on the USA Freedom Act, a bill introduced by Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI), who also introduced the Patriot Act in 2001.

The bill, designed to curb the vast bulk collection of data on US citizens, passed a 32-0 vote across party lines, making it the first surveillance bill to make it to the House floor.

In a joint statement, the committee urged the House and Senate to move quickly in order to "restore confidence in the way intelligence is gathered and protect the privacy rights of all Americans."

But the bill's future in the house remains unknown.

Privacy advocates and lawyers, academics, and industry partners alike have heralded the Freedom Act as the one-stop legislative shop to counter the NSA's massive surveillance capabilities. 

But some have warned that the bill is not as strong as when it was first introduced in October.

One of the major changes was to force the U.S. government to "seek approval from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) of specific selection terms on a case-by-case basis."

But following new proposals, the FISC may authorize up to "two hops" of separation, which may still include millions of records. 

That said, the bill would also permit Silicon Valley tech titans to disclose semi-annually the number of FISA orders they receive, codifying a settlement reached between the Justice Dept. and the companies earlier this year.

Corrected at 8am ET: An earlier headline suggested the House has passed the vote. While a crucial House committee has passed the vote, the wider House has yet to vote on the bill.

Topics: Security, Government, Legal, Privacy

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33 comments
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  • Uh....

    What makes them think the NSA will abide by any such new law?
    Hallowed are the Ori
    • Re: Uh....

      Thanks Hallowed!
      That's just what I was thinking myself.....

      TW
      T-Wrench
    • Exactly.

      They already break current laws and regulations, why would they bother following this new law?

      In addition, when the intelligence agencies are being overseen by an intelligence court essentially consisting of intelligence agency employees, how is that really judicial oversight? The problem is that the FISA court is just as corrupt and immoral as the agencies. This law just tells them to check with FISA first. Since FISA rubber stamps all requests anyway, it doesn't really change anything.

      Our government continues to give itself ever-increasing powers and will never backtrack on that trend because the only people who can change it are the ones benefiting most from the increase. Every nation in the world recognizes that the U.S. government is out of control. Most of the ire directed at the U.S. is actually due mistrust of our government. We the citizenry have virtually no say in where this nation is headed. We have the illusion of choice, because every candidate is hand-picked by powerful special interests.

      This law is yet another illusion of action designed to calm people down, nothing more.
      BillDem
      • "Essentially consisting of intelligence agency employees"

        Where did you get that from? Last I checked, all FISC judges were required to be US District Court judges, and not a lot of those come from intelligence backgrounds.
        John L. Ries
        • What difference does that make?

          They have been known to lie to the judges too.
          jessepollard
          • That wasn't his point

            He was claiming that the FISC judges are intelligence agency employees, which, unless I'm very much mistaken, is obviously false.
            John L. Ries
      • "the illusion of choice..."

        Should we assume that this is only until the next Caesar, Napoleon, or Chavez rides to our rescue and frees us from the shackles of pretended democracy once and for all? Or are we doomed to perpetual tyranny for all eternity? Or is there some other remedy?

        The most interesting aspect of efforts to discredit and delegitimize representative government (such as yours) is that they almost never lead to greater democracy. In almost all cases, democracy ends up being replaced by an authoritarian leader like one of the ones mentioned above and we end up with less freedom, not more.
        John L. Ries
  • The NSA is basically just a big, glorified IT department

    They've been only doing what they've ordered to do by the DoD and the CIA, and what was authorized by Congress. This is an infinitesimal step at best, but it makes it sound like the very Congressional people behind all this snooping in the first place somehow care now by making a big deal about it.
    JustCallMeBC
    • The problem is...

      We can't tell.

      After all, these organizations have lied to the very people that are supposedly in charge of them.

      And until they get rid of the various stupid laws that created the problem, such minor laws will be ignored.

      One of the things that prevented a lot of such improper activity was the mandated separation of CIA, NSA, and FBI.

      Now that they are all part of the same organization, there is less control over them.
      jessepollard
      • What Constitution?

        All of these alphabet-soup agencies have no place under the Constitution.

        Bureaucracies that are unaccountable to the electorate often become little empires with rules of their own.
        sissy sue
        • Most of them are accountable to the President...

          ...and all are paid for out of Congressional appropriations, so we know who to blame.

          There are some quasi-independent commissions like the Federal Reserve Board and the FTC, but the intelligence agencies are all headed by directors who were appointed by the President and serve at his pleasure. And unlike J. Edgar Hoover, any of them could be fired on a moment's notice without significant political consequence.

          Like most everything else connected with the US Government, the buck stops in the Oval Office, whether the current occupant is willing to admit it or not.
          John L. Ries
          • Even if accountable to the President,

            they may be able to get a great deal past his (or her) scrutiny by just not "bothering" to tell the White House everything. Remember the novel (and film) "Seven Days in May?" The Joint Chiefs were planning to draw the President to an "undisclosed location" for a bogus "operational test," keep him confined there under arrest, take over the biggest telephone and TV network switching centers via an armed assault, put the Chairman on TV as the nation's "liberator" from the "traitor" President, and use the rest of the troops to declare martial law. The project was funded with a line item in the classified Congressional budget (they also had a secret ally in the Senate) named ECOMCON; its alleged mission was "Emergency Communications Control," which the President thought was a unit that would PROTECT telephone switching sites from SOVIET attack, until a colonel working for the Chairman tipped him off.

            So it is possible that there are budget items KNOWN to the President, but which are ACTUALLY being set up to do things of which the President would not approve, or even to OPPOSE the President. One example would be the salaries and office expenses of "certain" members of the House and Senate.
            jallan32
          • So is there a realistic threat of a coup?

            Any untouchable generals who are really in charge (even though the vast majority of high ranking military officers retire on time to live on their modest pensions while pursuing second careers that almost never involve politics)? Any evidence at all that President Obama and the rest of the civilian leadership are mere figureheads for the armed services and intelligence agencies? If the President is not in charge, then who is (name names; It should be abundantly clear by this point that I don't believe in secret governments; especially secret dictators).

            The US military has a long standing tradition of deference to civilian authority, which is a large part of why the US has never experienced a military coup (unless, of course, one believes the resignation of Richard Nixon was one; I've read that book too and found that aspect of the authors' thesis to be the least convincing part). What evidence do you have that things have changed? Seven Days in May is something to worry about, and such things have happened in other countries, but here, it's still fiction.
            John L. Ries
          • Technically, even Hoover could be fired...

            Except for the fact that he had dirt on most of the Government personnel he was suppose to report to.

            It made him well nigh untouchable.
            jessepollard
          • So...

            ...are there any entrenched bureaucrats in positions comparable to Hoover's? Care to name names?
            John L. Ries
    • The GOPhas figured out

      that the unintended consequence of unleashing the hounds under color of 9/11 is that the NSA has accidentally aggregated a de facto gun registry for the USA: every cell call, email, internet purchase and chat comment by gun owners and fans accessible via "metadata". Read the press about gun club attacks on the new "smart" guns and consider whether it's paranoia or if the Feds really are after you.
      I2k4
      • All they would have to do to unleash the paranoid fantasies

        would be to confiscate the membership records of the NRA itself. That would catch about 90 to 95 percent of the gun owners who WANT to overthrow our government by force. If this causes gun owners to drop their memberships out of paranoid fear, so be it.
        jallan32
        • NSA Records

          Who says they haven't already done that ? I submit to you that they indeed have. FUSION CENTERS are collecting all kinds of data on everyone and no one is standing up SCREAMING about it.
          Labrynth
      • Democrats passed

        the current Patriot Act
        baggins_z
        • They helped...

          ...but it was a Bush Administration bill supported by at least as many Congressional Republicans as Democrats. And, as noted in the article, the author of record (always a member of Congress, even if the bill is based on an administration proposal), was Rep. James Sensenbrenner, a Republican.

          You seem to be trying to leave the impression that the Patriot Act was a Democratic proposal to which then-President Bush and Congressional Republicans acquiesced. It's not true.
          John L. Ries