[JURIST] The US House of Representatives [official website] voted 303-121 [roll call] Thursday to approve a bill that would curb the powers of the National Security Agency (NSA) [official website] to collect phone records. The USA Freedom Act [HR 3361 materials] would end the bulk collection of phone records and instead require the NSA to query phone companies about individual suspicious phone numbers. Supporters have called the bill an important step in protecting Americans’ privacy, but some have argued that the legislation does not go far enough. The Senate is expected to take up similar legislation and is still reviewing the House bill.
The revelations surrounding NSA surveillance programs [JURIST backgrounder] have sparked worldwide debate and controversy. In February current and former US officials released a report stating that the NSA is collecting less than 30 percent [JURIST report] of all American’s phone records due to the inability to keep up with the increased use of cellular phones. In late January the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website] filed a motion [JURIST report] on behalf of terror suspect Jamshid Muhtorov to suppress evidence the NSA obtained from surveillance conducted pursuant to the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 [text, PDF]. Also in January the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board [official website], an independent agency created by Congress to protect American privacy under anti-terrorism laws, issued a report calling the NSA’s metadata program illegal [JURIST report] and saying that it should be ended. Earlier in January President Barack Obama announced detailed plans [JURIST report] to change surveillance policy, curbing the abilities of intelligence agencies to collect and use American phone data.