Date
23 March 2017
Americans will no longer have their telephone logs collected in bulk by government intelligence agencies under a bill approved by the US Congress. Photo: The Guardian
Americans will no longer have their telephone logs collected in bulk by government intelligence agencies under a bill approved by the US Congress. Photo: The Guardian

US House votes to end bulk phone data collection by govt

Intelligence agencies will no longer be able to collect Americans’ telephone data in bulk after the United States Congress approved a bill prohibiting the practice.

The move set up a potential showdown with the US Senate over the program which expires on June 1, Reuters reported Thursday.

The House voted 338-88 for the USA Freedom Act, which would end the bulk collection.

Intelligence agencies can access telephone data and other records only when a court finds there is reasonable suspicion about a link to international terrorism.

The strong support in the House by both Democrats and Republicans could increase pressure on Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to allow a vote on the bill.

McConnell and several other senior Republican senators have said they would rather renew the existing bulk data collection program, authorized under the USA Patriot Act, passed in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

But continuing the program, which has concerned many privacy advocates since it was exposed in 2013 by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, would face strong resistance in the House.

At least two senators — Republican Rand Paul, a 2016 presidential candidate, and Democrat Ron Wyden — have pledged to filibuster any attempt to extend the plan.

Mostly framed so far as dealing with bulk collection of domestic telephone “metadata,” the bipartisan USA Freedom Act addresses activities much broader than phone calls, government officials and private experts said.

They said the FBI has used the Patriot Act and court rulings to gather records of hotel stays and international wire transfers by companies such as Western Union.

Under the Freedom Act, such powers would remain in place but investigators’ data collection power would be narrowed to cases where the government sets out tightly targeted “specific selection terms.”

“The big news in the USA Freedom Act is to limit bulk collection programs,” said Georgia Institute of Technology professor Peter Swire, who served on a review commission appointed by President Barack Obama after Snowden’s disclosures.

“One [court] order would no longer authorize a bulk collection program, whether for telephone metadata or for other purposes,” Swire said.

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