US House approves bill to eliminate phone data collection
US House approves bill to eliminate phone data collection

[JURIST] The US House of Representatives [official website] on Wednesday approves the USA Freedom Act [text], which would end the National Security Agency’s (NSA) [official website] mass collection of Americans’ phone data. The measure, approved by a vote of 338 to 88, largely extends the USA Patriot Act [text, PDF] that was set to expire on June 3. Under the measure the NSA can no longer collect phone data of American citizens in bulk, but the government can still access this data through the records of major telecommunication companies such as Verizon or AT&T. Lawmakers demonstrated strong bipartisan support in the House, but it is unlikely that such support will be reflected in the Senate. Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has said he wants no change while Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) [official websites] is pushing for even greater restrictions of data collection. The White House is supportive [JURIST report] of the bill and has called for the elimination of phone data collection. A compromise must be reached in the Senate by June 1 before the provision in the Patriot Act regarding NSA data collection expires.

Several US lawmakers have called [JURIST report] for a review of the government’s surveillance activity in light of reports revealing phone and Internet monitoring. The focus on government surveillance policies comes largely as a result of revelations [JURIST backgrounder] by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden [JURIST news archive], who allegedly leaked classified documents, including PRISM and UPSTREAM, in 2013, exposing the scope and breadth of NSA surveillance activities. Several human rights groups have taken legal action challenging the NSA. In March rights groups filed a lawsuit [JURIST report] in federal court against the NSA alleging that one of the NSA’s mass surveillance programs violates privacy rights and threatens free communication. The plaintiffs include the American Civil Liberties Union, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and Wikimedia. The US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled [opinion, PDF] earlier this month that the Patriot Act does not authorize [JURIST report] the NSA to collect millions of Americans’ phone records.