House leaders gut NSA-curbing USA FREEDOM Act

The Snowden revelations kickstarted a national dialog on surveillance and a Congressional promise to rein in mass spying through a bill called the USA FREEDOM Act. But as the Electronic Frontier Foundation reports, the cowardly leaders of the House have capitulated to Big Spook, gutting the bill so thoroughly that it might actually make things worse.

In particular, we are concerned with the new definition of "specific selection term," which describes and limits who or what the NSA is allowed to surveil. The new definition is incredibly more expansive than previous definitions. Less than a week ago, the definition was simply "a term used to uniquely describe a person, entity, or account.” While that definition was imperfect, the new version is far broader.1 The new version not only adds the undefined words "address" and "device," but makes the list of potential selection terms open-ended by using the term "such as." Congress has been clear that it wishes to end bulk collection, but given the government's history of twisted legal interpretations, this language can't be relied on to protect our freedoms.

Further, the bill does not sufficiently address Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Amendments Act. We are specifically concerned that the new language references "about" searches, which collect and review messages of users who do not even communicate with surveillance targets.Congress must include reforming Section 702 in any NSA reform. This includes stopping the NSA from searching illegally collected Americans' communications, stopping the suspicionless "about" surveillance, and ensuring companies can report on the exact number of orders they receive and the number of users affected.

EFF Dismayed by House's Gutted USA FREEDOM Act [Mark Jaycox, Nadia Kayyali and Lee Tien/EFF]

(Image: Ottoman surrender of Jerusalem restored, Wikimedia Commons/Library of Congress, Public Domain)