Bipartisan group introduces USA Freedom Act in House
Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations Subcommittee Chairman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), Ranking Member John Conyers (D-Mich.), and Courts, Intellectual Property and the Internet Subcommittee Ranking Member Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) introduced the USA Freedom Act on April 28. This bipartisan bill builds on the Committee’s extensive work on this issue last Congress, containing even stronger protections for Americans’ civil liberties, providing for even greater transparency for both the private sector and government, and preventing government overreach, while enhancing national security.
In June 2013, unauthorized disclosures of classified information revealed to the American people that the National Security Agency had been collecting bulk telephony “metadata” under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). Following the revelation of this information, the House Judiciary Committee worked extensively last Congress to end the NSA’s bulk collection program: it conducted aggressive oversight of our nation’s intelligence-gathering programs operated under FISA and approved bipartisan legislation in Committee, which was ultimately passed overwhelmingly in the House of Representatives. However, the Senate failed to pass legislation on this issue.
Crime Subcommittee Chairman Sensenbrenner, Chairman Goodlatte, Ranking Member Conyers, and Courts, Intellectual Property and the Internet Subcommittee Ranking Member Nadler praised the introduction of the bill in the joint statement below.
“As several intelligence-gathering programs are set to expire in a month, it is imperative that we reform these programs to protect Americans’ privacy while at the same time protecting our national security. The bipartisan bill introduced today builds on the Committee’s work on this issue last year. It enhances civil liberties protections, increases transparency for both American businesses and the government, ends the bulk collection of data, and provides national security officials targeted tools to keep America safe from foreign enemies. We look forward to expeditiously moving this strong, bipartisan bill through the House Judiciary Committee and then through Congress so that we rein in government overreach and rebuild trust with the American people. We thank Senators Lee and Leahy for working on this issue and introducing companion legislation in the Senate.”
Key Components of the USA Freedom Act:
Protects civil liberties:
• Ends bulk collection: Prohibits bulk collection of ALL records under Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act, the FISA pen register authority, and national security letter statutes.
• Prevents government overreach: The bulk collection prohibition is strengthened by prohibiting large-scale, indiscriminate collection, such as all records from an entire state, city, or zip code.
• Allows challenges of national security letter gag orders: NSL nondisclosure orders must be based upon a danger to national security or interference with an investigation. Codifies procedures for individual companies to challenge nondisclosure orders. Requires periodic review of nondisclosure orders to determine necessity.
Improves transparency and better information-sharing with the American people:
• Expertise at the FISA court: The bill creates a panel of amicus curie at the FISA court to provide guidance on matters of privacy and civil liberties, communications technology, and other technical or legal matters.
• Declassified FISA opinions: All significant constructions or interpretations of law by the FISA court must be made public. These include all significant interpretations of the definition of “specific selection term,” the concept at the heart of the ban on bulk collection.
• Robust government reporting: The Attorney General and the Director of National Intelligence will provide the public with detailed information about how they use these national security authorities.
• Robust company reporting: Tech companies will have a range of options for describing how they respond to national security orders, all consistent with national security needs.
Strengthens national security:
• Gives the government the tools it needs: Creates a new call detail records program that is closely overseen by the FISA court.
• Contains an additional tool to combat ISIL: The bill closes a loophole in current law that requires the government to stop tracking foreign terrorists when they enter the U.S. This provision gives the government 72 hours to track foreign terrorists when they initially enter the United States (it does not apply to U.S. persons) – enough time for the government to obtain the proper authority under U.S. law.
• Increases the statutory maximum prison sentence to 20 years for providing material support or resources to a designated foreign terrorist organization.
• Enhances investigations of international proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
• Protects United States’ maritime activities from nuclear threats, weapons of mass destruction, and other threats by implementing the obligations of various treaties to which the United States is a party.
• Provides strictly limited emergency authorities: Creates new procedures for the emergency use of Section 215 but requires the government to destroy the information it collects if a FISA court application is denied.