Sanford Votes Against USA Freedom Act
There was a lot of action on the House floor yesterday, and I wanted to note one “first” on my end. Today was the first time since returning to Congress I voted against a bill I co-sponsored – the USA Freedom Act. In fact, so did 78 out of the 151 other co-sponsors, which is something you don’t see all that often. The problem here is that what started as a strong bill with any number of good ideas for reforming the National Security Agency was changed dramatically right before voting, so that it looks almost nothing like the bill we co-sponsored.
There were three changes made behind the scenes to this bill before we voted on it that I found especially concerning. One, language that would have required the NSA to make specific requests for information in the course of an investigation was removed. That continued the troubling practice where the NSA could collect large amounts of data in essence just to see what they could use. Two, it would maintain the situation where telephone and technology companies would have to provide large amounts of information without any specific target. This means that in theory the NSA could ask for all the data coming from the 843 area code and it would be perfectly legal. Three, it extends the part of the PATRIOT Act that authorizes this activity for two and a half more years, when it had initially been scheduled to expire next year.
On top of all of that, this weaker version came to the floor under a closed rule, meaning no one could submit any amendments to change the bill. For example, I introduced an NSA reform bill that would have improved internal oversight at the agency, and was planning on introducing that as an amendment. Under this closed rule, we weren’t even given an opportunity to have these amendments considered, much less voted on. The original reforms in the USA Freedom Act would have been meaningful improvements and protections for Americans’ Fourth Amendment rights, but instead we’re left with a watered down substitute that I do not think addresses the legitimate concerns I hear from people in the District about government intrusion into their private lives.