The House of Representatives voted Wednesday to end the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of cell phone data from the American public.
The USA Freedom Act passed overwhelmingly in a 338-88 vote. The bill would replace the current program with one that would search phone record on a case-by-case basis instead of in bulk, according to NBC News. The Senate could take up the bill as early as next week.
Congress must act before the section of the Patriot Act that authorizes the collection of telephone records expires on June 1.
The USA Freedom Act has bipartisan support – both Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and the White House have come out in support of it, according to NBC News. The Obama administration said Tuesday, “The bill strengthens the (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act’s) privacy and civil liberties protections, while preserving essential authorities our intelligence and law enforcement professionals need to protect the nation.”
A federal appeals court ruled last week that the NSA surveillance program was illegal. “Such expansive development of government repositories of formerly private records would be an unprecedented contraction of the privacy expectations of all Americans,” the court said in its ruling, though it did not require the government to halt the data collection.
House Speaker John Boehner said in a statement that the bill ”strengthens our ability to deter and prevent attacks on U.S. soil by allowing authorities to monitor terrorists who enter the United States, and increasing penalties for those who support them. And it ensures Americans’ civil liberties are protected by ending bulk records collection and enhancing transparency of the FISA court. In short, this critical measure continues our focus on putting Americans’ priorities first.”
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee, called the vote “an important step forward for efforts to reform our nation’s surveillance programs. I believe that this bill is a big win for both privacy and security, by ending the bulk collection of phone metadata and maintaining the capabilities we need by requiring the government to query the data held by telephone companies on a case by case basis and upon court order.”
Civil liberties advocates applauded the House vote.
“Today’s vote is an overwhelming signal that the American people do not want the NSA to continue amassing a database of the phone records of millions of innocent Americans,” said Virginia Sloan, president of the Constitution Project, a nonpartisan legal advocacy group. “Although the legislation adopted by the House today does not go as far as we would like, it is an important first step toward protecting fundamental civil liberties and privacy, while still preserving the ability of the intelligence community to gather the targeted information it needs to help keep us safe. The strongly bipartisan vote in the House should spur the Senate to quickly follow suit in passing this vital reform. Congress should then turn to other critical surveillance issues such as closing the ‘backdoor search’ loophole.”
NBC News’ Andrew Rafferty and Alex Moe contributed reporting.