The White House Throws Its Weight Behind Weakened NSA Reform Bill

In the wake of criticism that the USA FREEDOM Act had been so neutered that it has lost sight of its initial goals of limiting NSA mass-surveillance, the Obama Administration today stated that it “strongly supports” its passage in the House.

Citing “strong bipartisan effort,” the White House says that the bill “ensures our intelligence and law enforcement professionals have the authorities they need to protect the Nation,” while also prohibiting “bulk collection through the use of Section 215, FISA pen registers, and National Security Letters.”

Critics of the bill in its final state point out that, while it does address Section 215 concerns, other important parts of the law are not dealt with. The EFF discussed this yesterday:

We are glad that the House added a clause to the bill clarifying the content of communications cannot be obtained with Section 215. Unfortunately, the bill’s changed definitions, the lack of substantial reform to Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Amendments Act, and the inability to introduce a special advocate in the FISA Court severely weakens the bill.

New, broader definitions have some worried that bulk collection will continue, even if the USA FREEDOM Act passes. The EFF continues: “Congress has been clear that it wishes to end bulk collection, but given the government’s history of twisted legal interpretations, [the new] language can’t be relied on to protect our freedoms.”

The administration goes on to call for “swift” passage of the bill in the House and “urges the Senate to follow suit.” Whether the act will be improved in the Senate to address these concerns remains to be seen.

When the branch of government that is undergoing external reform welcomes the proposal at hand, it’s slightly uncomfortable.

The act should be voted on tomorrow.