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US House Passes Surveillance Reform Bill to Rein In NSA

FILE - A sign outside the National Security Administration (NSA) campus in Fort Meade, Maryland.

The U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed legislation that both extends the Patriot Act passed after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and ends the bulk collection of the phone data of millions of Americans.

The bill, called the USA Freedom Act, was able to garner rare bipartisan support in the usually divided House, with 338 votes in favor and 88 against it. But the measure may face a rockier road in the Senate.

Former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden sparked international outrage in 2013 when he revealed the scope of U.S. intelligence agencies surveillance of average Americans.

Year ago

More than one year ago, lawmakers began working to craft legislation that would give intelligence agencies the tools they need to keep Americans safe, without violating their civil liberties.

House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte, a Republican, said the USA Freedom Act proves that there can be a balance between privacy and national security.

“I made the pledge to my colleagues in Congress and to the American people, that Americans’ liberty and America’s security can co-exist, that these fundamental concepts are not mutually exclusive,” Goodlatte said.

Democratic Representative John Conyers also hailed the bipartisan bill, saying it stops the bulk collection of phone data and also provides the American people with new transparency on any new surveillance programs.

“Today we have a rare opportunity to restore a measure of restraint to surveillance programs that have simply gone too far," Conyers said.

Where the Parties Disagree

Some progressive Democrats and libertarian Democrats would prefer to simply let the Patriot Act expire on June first, because they feel the USA Freedom Act does not go far enough to rein in the surveillance programs of the National Security Agency.

In the Senate, though, several top Republicans said they do not want to change the Patriot Act and do away with the mass surveillance programs that collect bulk phone data.

Republican Senator John Cornyn said, “Some in the intelligence committee have said that the bulk data collection that I have described here briefly has led to a safer United States, and it is because of programs like this that we are much better off than we were pre-9/11.”

Cornyn said the last thing Congress would want to do is to return the U.S. to a pre-9/11 mentality, when it comes to the threat of terrorism, both abroad and at home.

It is not yet clear whether the Senate will take up the U.S.A. Freedom Act, but both chambers need to pass the same version of a bill to extend the Patriot Act or let it expire on June 1.