The House Judiciary Committee overwhelmingly approved by a vote of 25-2 the USA Freedom Act of 2015 (H.R. 2048), a bill to reform intelligence-gathering programs operated under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). This strong, bipartisan legislation builds upon last year’s version of the USA Freedom Act, containing significant surveillance reforms and reflecting core American values. Here are five things that you need to know about the USA Freedom Act.
#1: Ends Bulk Collection: At the heart of the USA Freedom Act is the reform of Section 215 to prohibit bulk collection of any business records. Bulk collection is also prohibited under the FISA Pen Register/Trap and Trace Device authority and National Security Letter authorities.
In place of the current bulk telephone metadata program, the USA Freedom Act creates a narrower, targeted program that allows the Intelligence Community to collect non-content call detail records held by the telephone companies, but only with the prior approval of the FISA Court. The records provided to the government in response to queries will be limited to two “hops” and the government’s handling of any records it acquires would be governed by minimization procedures approved by the FISA Court.
#2: Prevents Government Overreach: The USA Freedom Act strengthens the definition of “specific selection term,” – the mechanism used to prohibit bulk collection – to ensure the government can collect the information it needs to further a national security investigation while also prohibiting large-scale, indiscriminate collection, such as data from an entire state, city, or even zip code.
#3: Strengthens Protections for Civil Liberties: The USA Freedom Act creates a panel of experts to advise the FISA Court on matters of privacy and civil liberties, communications technology, and other technical or legal matters. It also codifies important procedures for recipients of National Security Letters to challenge nondisclosure requests in response to a 2008 Second Circuit decision and makes conforming changes to Section 215 in response to this decision.
#4: Increases Transparency: The bill requires declassification of all significant opinions of the FISA court and provides procedures for certified questions of law to the FISA Court of Review and the Supreme Court. Additionally, the new legislation requires the Attorney General and the Director of National Intelligence to provide the public with detailed information about how they use these national security authorities, and provides even more robust transparency reporting by America’s technology companies.
#5: Protects National Security: The USA Freedom Act contains several important national security enhancements, including closing loopholes that make it difficult for the government to track foreign terrorists and spies as they enter or leave the country, clarifying the application of FISA to foreign targets who facilitate the international proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, increasing the maximum penalties for material support of a foreign terrorist organization, and extending the sunsets of the expiring PATRIOT Act provisions to December 2019.
Learn more about the USA Freedom Act here.
-Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), Chairman, House Judiciary Committee