Sunday, May 17, 2015

204.1 - Good News: House passes USA Freedom Act

Good News: House passes USA Freedom Act

Let's start with some Good News. Not as good as it could have been, but still good.

Last week, I told you about the upcoming expiration of three provisions of the grossly-misnamed PATRIOT Act and the push by civil libertarians in Congress (and yes there are some) to let those provisions, especially one known as Section 215 of the law, go ahead and expire.

Section 215 is the one that was used to justify the mass collection by the NSA of so-called "metadata" on essentially every phone or cell phone call within, into, or out of the US every day.

Well, the House of Representatives didn't have Section 215 die, but it did do what I suppose was the next best thing: By a vote of 338-88, including majorities of both Dems and GOPpers, it passed the USA Freedom Act.

If it became law, that act would
-stop the NSA from storing domestic telephone toll records;
-create a panel of independent advocates at the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, the FISC to advocate for privacy and civil liberties when the spooks come looking for a warrant;
-require the feds to have a "reasonable, articulable suspicion" that a specific search term - such as a certain telephone number - was associated with international terrorism in order to get a warrant to search related phone records;
-prohibit the NSA from making broad requests such as all calling for all records from a city, state, or ZIP code; and
-provide companies and individuals with a means to challenge the gag orders that routinely come with government demands for data under so-called national security letters, or NSLs.

As side effect, with the bar on the NSA storing phone records and an FCC rule that phone companies store customer records for at least 18 months, the bill in effect creates an 18-month limit on the time the NSA has to seek such a warrant.

The bill is far from perfect and some have questioned how much protection it offers, since warrants would still come from the notoriously compliant FISC, which virtually never rejects a request for one - but it is a good deal better than what the right-wing leadership of the Senate wants to do, which is to renew the existing "collect it all" provisions of the law for five more years with no changes.

So the fight is by no means over  - but for the moment, embrace the fact that the House has declared loudly that "privacy" is not an antiquated term. And that is Good News.

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