On May 13, the U.S. House of Representatives, led by a Republican majority, voted some of the strictest reforms in years to the workings of the National Security Administration, a government agency that has been under heavy criticism for their surveillance practices.
In a bipartisan vote, the USA Freedom Act was approved by in a 338-88 tally, which prevents the NSA from collecting and storing data – data which includes phone calls, text messages and location tracking devices.
While members of the House greatly supported the legislation, it is unsure how lawmakers in the U.S. Senate will vote. Unfortunately, there will not be much time to debate the legislation, as the Senate only has two weeks to approve the new legislation before an existing law expires, The Hill reported.
The USA Freedom Act is supported by the White House, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican representing Kentucky, has opposed reforms to the agency but will vote in the affirmative on Section 215 of the 2001 USA Patriot Act, the section that allows for the collection and storage of data.
More high profile names, such as Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida and GOP Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, both side with McConnell on the issue. Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, also a Republican, wishes the current law to expire and not be replaced. All three senators are running for the Republican nomination for the presidency in 2016.
The legislation would also force the NSA to hold a court order to observe data, which major cellphone companies would hold. In order to prevent bulk collections, the NSA would be required to ask for a “specific selection term,” or in other words, a month or date that would eliminate having to store all data from all periods of time.
Prior to the vote in the House on May 13, House Speaker John Boehner, a Republican from Ohio, supported his chamber’s actions and called on the Senate to do the same.
“All I know is, these programs expire at the end of this month. They are critically important to keep Americans safe. The House is going to act, and I would hope the Senate would act soon as well,” the Speaker said.
However, a McConnell ally defended the current NSA programs and warned that reforming the system would compromise the safety of all Americans.
“I believe if we allow these provisions to expire, our homeland security will be at a much greater risk,” John Cornyn, Republican Senator of Texas, said. “It’s not enough to say to the American people, ‘Well, we will deploy all of the tools available to law enforcement to prosecute the person that murders innocent people.’ We need to keep the commitment to protect them from that innocent slaughter in the first place, and the only way we do that is by using legitimate tools of intelligence, like this program.”