Niskanen Center Applauds Passage of USA FREEDOM Act, Senate’s Rejection of McConnell Amendments

Civil liberties reform bill passes by wide margin

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Niskanen Center is more encouraged than ever following the passage of the USA FREEDOM Act by a significant margin of 67-32. The bill will now go to the White House for President Obama’s signature.

“Today’s action is the single most significant surveillance reform measure of the past generation,” notes Ryan Hagemann, the Niskanen Center’s civil liberties policy analyst. “This is by far the most sweeping piece of surveillance reform legislation in the post-9/11 era. Without the passage of Sen. McConnell’s amendments to USA FREEDOM, the bill was able to proceed unchanged, in the same form, as voted on by an overwhelming majority of House representatives. As a result, the Senate was able to cast a vote in favor of the USA FREEDOM Act, thereby returning important safeguards to Americans’ privacies and avoiding the pitfalls of returning the bill to the House.”

These amendments would have significantly weakened what is already a bipartisan, bicameral-supported bill that has the backing of the Obama Administration, numerous privacy and trade organizations, nonprofits, and a broad coalition of supporters from across both sides of the aisle.

  • Before moving to a vote, Sen. McConnell tabled his proposed amendment, #1452, which would have eliminated the USA FREEDOM Act’s provision to ensure that “novel or significant” interpretations would be declassified in order to provide public oversight and scrutiny of the secret court;
  • Amendment #1451, which would have limited the ability for a FISC amicus curiae to stand as an advocate for defendants was then voted down, 42-56;
  • Amendment #1450, which would have extended the implementation period for the reforms from 180 days to an entire year, then failed by 44-54; and
  • Finally, Amendment #1449, the notice requirement for changes in private firms’ data retention policies, failed by 43-56.

“We have worked tirelessly with a broad coalition of civil society allies who have contributed immense efforts to ensuring the triumph of this momentous occasion,” said Hagemann, “and without their staunch and unwavering commitment to this reform measure, the American people would otherwise have continued to be subject to the onerous provisions of the PATRIOT Act’s Section 215 bulk metadata collection program. Without their help, USA FREEDOM never would have passed today. This is a momentous day – for you, for me, and for all Americans.”

Not everyone agrees, however.

Sen. McConnell called the day’s vote a “victory for Edward Snowden and the terrorists.” In fact, today’s vote was a victory for the American people. Today, the Senate courageously countered the hawkish rhetoric from surveillance supporters and sent a clear message to Americans: we are serious about moving forward with reform.

Although there remains much to be done, Hagemann said the Niskanen Center is optimistic that future legislation will continue to address some of the more legally questionable elements of the PATRIOT Act.

“The work of Americans has only just begun, but we have managed a historic victory today,” said Hagemann. “Moving forward, we must be as vigilant as ever as we continue to dismantle the worst parts of the PATRIOT Act as they come up for reauthorization. We will continue to commit ourselves to this mission and continue working with other organizations that seek to do the same.”