WASHINGTON – US lawmakers Thursday advanced a measure that reins in NSA surveillance Thursday, signaling final passage of reforms aimed at ending bulk data collection could come quicker than expected.
Easing what was shaping up to be a showdown between reformers and hawkish National Security Agency reformers, the House Intelligence Committee abandoned its own surveillance bill and unanimously approved the measure that sailed through the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday.
The proposal could soon be brought to the House floor, although no date has been set. It would then go to the Senate, where committees have yet to agree on NSA reform measures.
“We look forward to working with the Judiciary Committee, House and Senate leadership, and the White House to address outstanding operational concerns and enact the USA Freedom Act into law this year,” House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers and the panel’s top Democrat Dutch Ruppersberger said in a statement.
The bill would end the practice of scooping up Americans’ telephone metadata — including numbers dialed, duration and times of calls, but not content. The program was disclosed last year by fugitive NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
The White House called the bill “a very good step” and hoped to see a House vote “in the near future.”
Lawmakers are concerned that US intelligence agencies are also gathering the content of personal email messages, an issue Senator Ron Wyden wants addressed in the final legislation.
The House measure would boost privacy safeguards by requiring a secret surveillance court to determine that there is “reasonable articulable suspicion” that a person has terror connections before intelligence agencies can pull his or her records from a phone company’s database.
It would also increase transparency of the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, create a panel of legal experts to ensure the FISA court adheres to privacy and constitutional rights and allow communications firms, such as those ordered by the government to hand over data, to release more information about such requests.
The proposal is similar to plans laid out by President Barack Obama in March, when he called on Congress to act to end the federal government’s collection and storage of metadata.