House Passes Bill To Overhaul NSA's Collection Of Phone Records

The bill will require phone companies to retain the metadata of calls for 18 months. The NSA can then query their databases with a judicial order or in emergency situations.

The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill Thursday to reform the National Security Agency's collection of phone records. The legislation will now move to the Senate.

The USA Freedom Act, which passed with a vote of 303 to 121, would stop the bulk collection of Americans' calling records by the agency. Instead, telephone companies will retain metadata of calls for 18 months, which the NSA can query with a judicial order or in emergency situations.

However, some privacy advocates and congressional leaders were dismayed by the watered-down version that passed. The new version lost the support of the Global Government Surveillance coalition, which includes Google, Apple, Yahoo, Twitter, Facebook, Dropbox, LinkedIn, Microsoft, and AOL. In particular, there are concerns surrounding the definition of "selection term," the terms the NSA would use to describe its request to phone providers. The passed bill includes a broader definition than what was initially proposed.

"If we leave any ambiguity at all, we have learned that the intelligence community will drive a truck through that ambiguity," said Rep. Zoe Lofgren, a California Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, who cosponsored the initial bill.

Echoing similar sentiments, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to user privacy issues, said the change in definition could be exploited by the government. "Congress has been clear that it wishes to end bulk collection, but given the government's history of twisted legal interpretations, this language can't be relied on to protect our freedoms," the organization said in a statement.

[Image: Flickr user Matthias Ripp]

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