U.S. House Moves To Crush NSA Bulk Phone Data Collection In Lopsided 338-88 Vote

In a 338-to-88 vote, the U.S. House of Representatives yesterday showed strong support for the USA Freedom Act, a bill that would effectively end the National Security Agency's ability to collect phone records on a mass scale. It would also make other changes to the scope of the NSA's surveillance program, though a similar bill was voted down in the Senate last year.

"All I know is, these programs expire at the end of this month. They are critically important to keep Americans safe," House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) said ahead of the vote. "The House is going to act, and I would hope the Senate would act soon as well."

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There's a division among politicians in how to balance civil liberties against the need to protect Americans from terrorist attacks. Republican Senate leaders don't want to give up control in how records are collected, while there are some, such as presidential candidate Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky), who want the NSA program to expire.

"I believe if we allow these provisions to expire, our homeland security will be at a much greater risk," said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas). "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."

Getting back to telephone records, as allowed by the Patriot Act, the NSA currently collects millions of phone records from U.S. companies on a daily basis. These records are then stored in a database, and if the NSA suspects any are linked to a terrorist organization, it can receive approval from a judge to search through the records.

If the USA Freedom Act passes, phone records (including numbers, call dates, times, and durations) would be stored by telecoms instead of the government. The NSA could still search them, but would first need a court order that identifies a specific person, account, or address.

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