National News

House poised to pass curbs on NSA surveillance

FILE - This June 6, 2013 file photo shows the sign outside the National Security Agency campus in Fort Meade, Md. The House is poised to take the first significant step to change the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of American phone records, a compromise bill that is displeasing many civil liberties activists. The bill, scheduled for a House vote on May 22, 2014, instructs the phone companies to hold the records for 18 months and let the NSA search them in terrorism investigations in response to a judicial order. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File) -
FILE - This June 6, 2013 file photo shows the sign outside the National Security Agency campus in Fort Meade, Md. The House is poised to take the first significant step to change the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of American phone records, a compromise bill that is displeasing many civil liberties activists. The bill, scheduled for a House vote on May 22, 2014, instructs the phone companies to hold the records for 18 months and let the NSA search them in terrorism investigations in response to a judicial order. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)
— image credit:

By Ken Dilanian, The Associated Press

WASHINGTON - The House is poised to take the first significant step to change the National Security Agency's bulk collection of American phone records, a compromise bill that is displeasing many civil liberties activists.

The USA Freedom Act would codify a proposal made in January by President Barack Obama, who said he wanted to end the NSA's practice of collecting the "to and from" records of nearly every American landline telephone call under a program that searched the data for connections to terrorist plots abroad.

The bill, scheduled for a House vote Thursday, instructs the phone companies to hold the records for 18 months and let the NSA search them in terrorism investigations in response to a judicial order. The program was revealed last year by former NSA analyst Edward Snowden.

"The bill's significant reforms would provide the public greater confidence in our programs and the checks and balances in the system," the White House said in a statement Wednesday endorsing the legislation.

Privacy and civil liberties activists denounced the measure, saying it had been "gutted" to win agreement from lawmakers, particularly on the Intelligence Committee, who supported the NSA phone records program.

"This legislation was designed to prohibit bulk collection, but has been made so weak that it fails to adequately protect against mass, untargeted collection of Americans' private information," Nuala O'Connor, president and CEO of the Center for Democracy and Technology, said in a statement.

"The bill now offers only mild reform and goes against the overwhelming support for definitively ending bulk collection," she added.

House Intelligence Committee member Rep. Adam Schiff, a Democrat who represents a liberal district outside of Los Angeles, said the bill is perhaps the most significant action Congress will take in response to the Snowden leaks. The former NSA contractor handed journalists documents that revealed a host of once-secret NSA surveillance programs, including some that sweep in the personal information of Americans even as they target foreigners.

Outrage over the programs that Snowden publicized brought together conservatives and liberals who favour civil liberties, while the administration and congressional leadership resisted changing what they considered a useful counterterror tool.

"I think there's been remarkable convergence on the issue," Schiff said. "It wasn't long ago that it was a real struggle with the idea of ending bulk collection. I think it's a very good bill."

Schiff said he wished the bill had provided for an independent public advocate on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, the secret judicial body that sets the legal parameters for NSA surveillance that touches on Americans. Such an advocate could challenge the government's legal positions on what surveillance is permissible, he said. As it stands, the FISA court only hear from the government. No one represents the American public, whose data is being collected, or the terror suspect in court.

Instead, the law includes "a fairly weak" provision for friend of the court briefs, which are already allowed under existing law.

"I don't think it's the end of the reform process," Schiff said.

In another change, the original bill required annual public reports by the government estimating, to the nearest 100, how many Americans were subject to various categories of secret intelligence surveillance, according to OpentheGovernment, a coalition promoting government transparency.

Those requirements were dropped from the bill, the group said.

We encourage an open exchange of ideas on this story's topic, but we ask you to follow our guidelines for respecting community standards. Personal attacks, inappropriate language, and off-topic comments may be removed, and comment privileges revoked, per our Terms of Use. Please see our FAQ if you have questions or concerns about using Facebook to comment.

You might like ...

Surrey enforcer killed on the weekend
 
Four arrested in Langley City home invasion
 
UPDATE: Suspect arrested in attack on Surrey bus driver
Man charged in Surrey bus attack remains in custody
 
Council candidate: Susan Spaeti running in District of Kent
 
Delta man facing 16 charges over crime rampage
Nephew Bandit, suspect in Langley senior fraud, arrested
 
45 per cent back new Massey Bridge: Poll
 
28th annual Toy Run roars through Fraser Valley

Community Events, October 2014

Add an Event

Read the latest eEdition

Browse the print edition page by page, including stories and ads.

Oct 20 edition online now. Browse the archives.