Rep. Sewell Votes in Favor of USA FREEDOM Reauthorization Act
Washington, D.C. – U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell (AL-07), a senior member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, voted today in favor of H.R. 6172, the USA FREEDOM Reauthorization Act. The legislation will reform the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act while reauthorizing important national security provisions that are set to expire this weekend.
“It is essential that our intelligence and law enforcement professionals have the tools they need to keep our country safe, while at the same time ensuring Americans’ privacy is protected,” Sewell said. “This bill is strong, bipartisan legislation that does exactly that by extending key provisions of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and setting new limits that safeguard the privacy of the American people.”
An explanation of the key reforms within the USA FREEDOM Reauthorization Act can be found below with a section-by-section analysis available here:
New Limitations on Authorities:
- Ending the NSA’s Authority to Collect Call Detail Records on an Ongoing Basis: The bill repeals the government’s authority to collect call detail records on an ongoing basis. That program, as reformed by the USA FREEDOM Act, resulted in the NSA collecting more than 430 million call detail records in 2018 alone. It has been riddled with technical problems and was shut down last year. The bill ensures that it cannot be restarted.
- Protection for Geolocation and Other Information: The bill prohibits the government from using Section 215 to collect any records if a warrant would be required to collect the same records for law enforcement purposes. It also expressly prohibits the government from using Section 215 to collect cell site location information or GPS information. These limitations codify and exceed those imposed in the law enforcement context by the Supreme Court’s 2018 holding in Carpenter v. United States.
- Retention Limits: The bill prohibits the government from retaining materials collected under Section 215 for more than five years, subject to limited exceptions.
Stronger Checks on Surveillance:
- Notice Requirement: The bill requires the government to provide notice to individuals targeted in national security investigations whose information is collected pursuant to Section 215 if the government plans to use that information, or any information derived from it, in a criminal case or other legal proceeding. The person receiving notice may challenge the legality of the collection and obtain independent review by a court or government body charged with administering the legal proceeding.
- Enhanced First Amendment Protections: The bill requires the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review (FISC-R) to appoint an amicus curiae if an application by the government—whether pursuant to Section 215 or any other part of FISA—presents exceptional concerns about the First Amendment rights of U.S. persons.
- Additional Strengthening for Amicus Curiae Provisions: The bill enhances amici’s ability to access relevant information and would allow amici to seek review of important legal issues in the FISC-R and in the Supreme Court.
- Declassification of Significant Opinions: The bill requires the government to declassify significant FISC and FISC-R opinions within 180 days. Further, it expressly requires the government to declassify (1) opinions in which the FISC or FISC-R construes the new provision that prohibits the use of Section 215 to obtain records for which a warrant would be required in the law enforcement context, or (2) opinions issued from cases in which an amicus has been appointed. It also requires the government to conduct a declassification review of opinions issued before the USA FREEDOM Act’s enactment, which the government has thus far refused to do.
- Review of Impact on Protected Classes and First Amendment Activities: The bill directs the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB) to conduct a study of the manner in which the government’s use of FISA authorities may be premised on or may impact protected classes, including based on race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, or sex. The study would also review whether protected First Amendment activities are used to support targeting decisions, and any impacts that may have on people’s exercise of their First Amendment rights.
- Strengthening Reporting Requirement for 702 Queries: The bill eliminates an existing exemption for the FBI and requires the Bureau to report instances in which it queries Section 702 databases for information about U.S. persons. It strengthens these reporting requirements across agencies by requiring reporting of queries that are “reasonably likely to identify a United States person,” in addition to queries involving “a known U.S. person.”
- Reports on the Government’s Legal Positions: The bill requires the Justice Department to publish reports explaining its positions on two significant and controversial subjects: (1) the manner in which the government determines whether information is “obtained or derived” from FISA activities for the purposes of the law’s notice requirements; and (2) the manner in which the government interprets the prohibition against investigations predicated “solely upon the basis of activities protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution.”
Ensuring Integrity in the FISA Process:
- Certifications Regarding Accuracy: The bill requires officers responsible for FISA applications to certify that the Justice Department has been apprised of all information that might call into question the accuracy of the application or that would otherwise raise doubts about the findings necessary under the law. This provision remedies significant failures by the FBI to provide such information to DOJ, as identified by the Inspector General.
- Remedies for Misconduct: The bill clarifies that contempt before the FISC and FISC-R is punishable under the exiting criminal contempt statute; enhances certain penalties regarding misues of FISA authorities; and expressly prohibits unauthorized disclosures of FISA applications.
- Compliance Officers: The bill requires the FBI and other agencies responsible for submitting applications to the FISC to appoint officers responsible for ensuring compliance with the law, including provisions ensuring the accuracy of FISA applications and all minimization, targeting, and querying procedures.