Wednesday afternoon, The House Judiciary Committee unanimously passed the U.S.A. Freedom Act, a bill to rein in the NSA’s mass data collection. The vote brought together Committee Democrats and Republicans in a rare show of bipartisanship.
The bill was authored by Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner – who wrote the original Patriot Act in 2001. While the Freedom Act would allow the NSA to collect Americans’ phone data – up to two degrees of separation from a suspected individual – it would prohibit the bulk collection of information, including phone, internet, and financial records. It would also limit that data collection to counterterrorism purposes and require the government to reveal how many people are subject to surveillance orders.
The unanimous vote in Committee underscores just how far the conversation has shifted on intelligence reform. Before Edward Snowden leaked details last year, details about the government’s bulk data collection programs were secret. Immediately following the Snowden leaks, the House rejected an NSA reform provision to the National Defense Authorization Act at the White House’s urging. In March, the administration reversed course, calling on Congress to end bulk collection of phone records.
The Freedom Act is not the only bill up for consideration in the House. A rival bill from the House Intelligence Committee would only ban some data, allowing the C.I.A. to continue its bulk collection of American financial data, for example. And the intelligence bill actually expands data collection to crimes other than counterterrorism. That bill is slated for a committee vote tomorrow, setting up a showdown over which bill gets the stamp of approval from Republican leadership in the House.
The fate of intelligence reform – like so many things in Washington – is now in the hands of John Boehner.