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USA FREEDOM Act Fails to Advance in Senate

telephone with sticker that says "this phone is tapped"
image © François Proulx

ARL is disappointed that the US Senate failed to advance the USA FREEDOM Act (S. 2685), a bill that would have provided meaningful reform to current National Security Agency (NSA) surveillance practices and protect civil liberties. A November 18, 2014, evening vote on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-NV) cloture motion to proceed with the USA FREEDOM Act fell two votes shy of the necessary 60 votes.

The USA FREEDOM Act, reintroduced by Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Patrick Leahy (D-VT) in July, would have ended the current practice of bulk collection of phone records and prevented bulk collection of other records under Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act, also known as the “library records” or “business records” provision. Additionally, S. 2685 included several reforms to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), such as requiring unclassified summaries of FISC opinions with information necessary to understand the impact on civil liberties and creating a Special Advocate position charged with protecting privacy and civil liberties. Leahy’s bill also included enhanced transparency provisions.

The USA FREEDOM Act had broad support of advocacy groups and technology companies. The bill also gained support from key individuals, including President Obama, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, and Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Dianne Feinstein (D-CA).

Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act will expire in June 2015 unless the US Congress votes to reauthorize the provision, and a continued fight over this provision is expected. Last year, revelations about the NSA program, including the breadth and scope of bulk collection of data, raised serious concerns regarding curtailment of civil liberties and the compatibility of these programs with the Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution. Even prior to these disclosures, the library community expressed reservations regarding overly broad national security powers (PDF) and has repeatedly urged for necessary reforms.

While ARL is disappointed that the US Senate failed to address the serious civil liberties concerns raised by NSA surveillance practices and bring the USA FREEDOM Act to a vote, the Association remains hopeful that meaningful reform can still be achieved as the fight over bulk collection of records continues. ARL is grateful to Chairman Leahy for his leadership on NSA reform and looks forward to continuing to work with his and other offices on these important civil liberty issues in the future.

The Association of Research Libraries (ARL) is a nonprofit organization of 125 research libraries in the US and Canada. ARL’s mission is to influence the changing environment of scholarly communication and the public policies that affect research libraries and the diverse communities they serve. ARL pursues this mission by advancing the goals of its member research libraries, providing leadership in public and information policy to the scholarly and higher education communities, fostering the exchange of ideas and expertise, facilitating the emergence of new roles for research libraries, and shaping a future environment that leverages its interests with those of allied organizations. ARL is on the web at http://www.arl.org/.

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