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President Obama signs USA Freedom Act, a major NSA-reform bill, into law

This marks the first major surveillance reform in 40 years.


Eric Geller


Posted on Jun 2, 2015   Updated on May 28, 2021, 4:47 pm CDT

President Obama signed into law the most substantial reforms to U.S. surveillance programs in decades on Tuesday night, capping off months of tense negotiations, close votes, and heated debate over the proper role of America’s spy agencies.

The USA Freedom Act, which passed the Senate 67-32 on Tuesday after passing the House 388-88 on May 13, revives the three provisions of the USA Patriot Act of 2001 that expired at midnight on Monday. 

The main target of the reforms is Section 215, which the government used to collect Americans’ phone records in bulk until a court ruled that the program was illegal. The Obama administration now has six months to transfer that program to the phone companies, which already collect some records for business reasons, such as customer billing.

The other two provisions that had expired—the “lone wolf” and “roving wiretap” authorities—will be restored without changes.

Among its other reforms, the USA Freedom Act:

  1. Narrows the scope of records that the government can request from the phone companies under the National Security Agency’s bulk-records program.
  2. Requires the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), which hears requests for surveillance warrants, to publish declassified versions of its major opinions.
  3. Creates a board of privacy advocates to represent the public in cases where FISC is considering novel legal arguments.

Photo via The White House/Flickr (PD)

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*First Published: Jun 2, 2015, 10:07 pm CDT