By Ann-Marie Adams, White House Correspondent
WASHINGTON — White House officials said Thursday that President Barack Obama would sign the USA Freedom Act if the Senate passes a bipartisan bill aimed at rolling back the government’s authority to spy on its own citizens.
This attempt at National Security Agency reform in Congress, officials said, would clear the way to curb bulk collection of Americans’ phone records and other personal information with warrantless FBI investigative tools under the Patriot Act’s Section 215.
So the National Security Act, would help restrict breaches to privacy rights. The bill, proponents said, is aimed at overzealous government officials who target foreigners in the US and for Americans who have a probable-cause warrant because they travel overseas. After the September 11 attack on the World Trade Center, George Bush signed the Patriot Act, granting sweeping changes to civil liberties.
The House passage of the bill comes after the Obama administration tried to change America’s surveillance methods after a NSA Consultant Edward Snowden revealed massive spying by the American government on its citizens and others.
Press Secretary Josh Earnest said if the Senate fails to pass the USA Freedom Act before leaving for the Memorial Day break, it would jeopardize national security.
“The USA Freedom Act represents a reasonable compromise that strengthens the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act’s privacy and civil liberties protections,” Earnest told reporters at a press briefing on Thursday after the House of Representatives passed the USA Freedom Act with overwhelming bipartisan support, 338-88. “We strongly support this bill just as many national security professionals, as well as civil libertarians do.”
Passage of the USA Freedom Act means a break up the so-called “haystack” of domestic phone records so that telecommunications companies can oversee intelligence agencies and change the process of collecting data.
Senator Mitch O’Connell (R-Ky.) in a recent meeting said that Senate Republicans prefer a clean renewal of the Patriot Act, rather than a two-year extension.
Under the reform, however, NSA would still have authority to collect thousands of call records based on a single court order, which ruled that a provision of the Patriot act did not permit a dragnet collection of US phone records.
Also, polls showed broad and deep bipartisan antipathy to government surveillance.
The Senate is expected to consider the bill after Congress returns on June 1.