House Votes to End Hotly Criticized Surveillance

     (CN) – The House voted Wednesday 338-88 to end the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of phone records, a practice one federal appeals court has already criticized.
     The House bill passed with strong support from Speaker John Boehner. It would modify the Patriot Act to prohibit the NSA’s bulk collection of citizen phone records.
     Phone-service providers would still be required to maintain the records for up to five years, however, in case the government requests access to them.
     Such requests must first receive approval from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.
     In the Senate, the bill faces opposition both from pro-defense senators, such as majority leader Mitch McConnell, and Republicans who are pushing for greater restrictions on government surveillance, such as Sen. Rand Paul.
     Congress must reach a decision either way before June 1, when the provision of the Patriot Act permitting broad NSA surveillance expires.
     The debate is complicated by the 2nd Circuit’s ruling last week, which unanimously found that Patriot Act does not give the NSA the authority to conduct its mass surveillance program.
     In a concurring opinion, Judge Robert Sack urged Congress to take action to clarify the matter.
     “Because our decision is based on our reading of a federal statute, not the Constitution, Congress can in effect overrule it,” Sack wrote. “The enactment of a statute amending or supplanting the portion of section 215 that, until now, has been interpreted to authorize the NSA’s bulk collection program would likely do the job, subject, of course, to a subsequent constitutional challenge in the courts.”
     The D.C. Circuit is also considering an unrelated challenge to the so-called dragnet.

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