The U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday approved a bill that would stop spy agencies from collecting telephone data. Photo:
The U.S. House of Representatives has voted 338 for and 88 against to put end to the NSA’s dragnet collection of data from millions of Americans, a controversial program that was revealed two years ago by former security contractor Edward Snowden.
The USA Freedom Act was highly welcomed by privacy and civil rights advocates. The White House backs the reforms, saying the Bill protects privacy while preserving essential national security authorities.
Ahead of the vote Wednesday, Speaker John A. Boehner said the bill would “protect our foreign intelligence capabilities” and urged the Senate to follow suit.
“All I know is, these programs expire at the end of this month. They are critically important to keep Americans safe,” he said. “The House is going to act, and I would hope the Senate would act soon as well.”
Later Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s top leadership deputy, Sen. John Cornyn took to the Senate floor Wednesday morning to defend the current surveillance programs and to prove the necessity of using it.
“I believe if we allow these provisions to expire, our homeland security will be at a much greater risk,” Cornyn said. “It’s not enough to say to the American people, ‘Well, we will deploy all of the tools available to law enforcement to prosecute the person that murders innocent people.’ We need to keep the commitment to protect them from that innocent slaughter in the first place, and the only way we do that is by using legitimate tools of intelligence, like this program.”
House members spoke up for the bill Wednesday on the floor. Rep. Will Hurd, a former CIA officer, said the bill “strikes the right balance between privacy and security.”
“I’ve seen firsthand the value these programs bring,” he noted, “but I also know if Americans don’t feel they can trust their own government, we’re losing the battle right here at home.”
“This is a strong bill and should advance with such an overwhelming majority that it compels the Senate to act,” shared his thoughts Rep. Adam B. Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.
Meanwhile, Sen. Mike Lee, a leading Republican backer of surveillance revisions, was calling for adoption of the House bill, which is rooted in bipartisan negotiations among members of the House and Senate.
“This is a compromise, an important compromise that will enable us to protect Americans’ privacy while giving the government the tools it needs to keep us safe,” Lee said. “It is a bill, I think, we should take up and pass as soon as they have voted.”
There’re also those who saw little difference between letting the current program expire and passing the House bill.
Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said: “When you do away with bulk storage, you basically have an unworkable system in real time, and part of this program’s design is that it works in real time. We’re ahead of a threat. We don’t want to be behind a threat.”