Obama signing a bill into law

The White House/Flickr (PD)

This marks the first major surveillance reform in 40 years.

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)

Eric Geller

Eric Geller

Eric Geller is a politics reporter who focuses on cybersecurity, surveillance, encryption, and privacy. A former staff writer at the Daily Dot, Geller joined Politico in June 2016, where he's focused on policymaking at the White House, the Justice Department, the State Department, and the Commerce Department.

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Senate passes NSA-reform bill to revive expired spying powers
President Obama has said he will sign the bill into law.
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