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The USA Freedom Act, the leading contender for NSA reform, is set for a vote this week. The bill has some problems, but is a major step forward for surveillance reform. That's why we're asking you to call your Senator and urge them to support the USA Freedom Act. Here's a rundown of what's to come, what you need to know, and what may happen this week:What is the USA Freedom Act and How Did we Get Here?The USA Freedom Act is a bill that was first proposed last year by Senator Patrick Leahy and Representative Jim Sensenbrenner. The original version of the bill limited the NSA's call records collection program, introduced a special advocate into the secretive court overseeing the spying, mandated much needed transparency requirements, and included significant reform of Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Amendments Act (FISAA), the law used to collect Americans’ communications in bulk.It took several months, but the original version of the bill was finally taken up by the House of Representatives in May. Unfortunately, prior to a vote on the original bill in May, the House made significant, last-minute changes that watered down the bill’s privacy protections. Nevertheless, the House passed a new—weaker—“USA Freedom Act” against the protests of privacy advocates. In response, Senator Leahy vowed to move a stronger bill forward that provided meaningful surveillance reform.What resulted is the current version of the USA Freedom Act, which was released in July of this year. The current version does many of the same things as the original bill except it doesn't offer significant reform of Section 702 of FISAA. The current version is the bill up for debate this week.Where We're GoingThe Senate will hold two major votes this week. On Tuesday night, it will vote whether or not to move forward to debate the USA Freedom Act. Senator Leahy needs 60 Senators to vote in favor of moving forward. After obtaining the 60 votes, the Senate will then begin to debate the bill and any amendments.
The US Senate voted against reining in the NSA's spying powers tonight, shooting down a proposal that was supported not just by intelligence reform groups, but by the director of the NSA himself.The USA Freedom Act needed 60 Senate votes to pass its key procedural vote, and it failed to get them. The bill got 58 yes votes and 42 no votes.The bill would have stopped the government from engaging in bulk phone surveillance. Instead, Americans' phone information would have remained with the phone companies and could only be searched by request, with specific selection terms.It would have also provided for a privacy advocate at the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which approves such surveillance. Reformers hoped that would provide for a less one-sided debate at that court.The bill had widespread support, not just from civil liberties groups but from law enforcement—including the director of the NSA and even former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper.There are many other aspects of surveillance that came up since the Snowden leaks that the bill didn't address, such as surveillance of e-mail that was revealed as part of the PRISM program. It would have extended for two years certain aspects of the Patriot Act, such as "roving" wiretaps.