EDWARD Snowden really knows how to bring a room together.
On Wednesday, that room was the U.S. House of Representatives’ Judiciary Committee chambers, where, by a bipartisan 32-0 vote, members approved a bill that would effectively end one of the most controversial spying programs Snowden exposed.
The USA Freedom Act is a landmark step toward ending the National Security Agency’s once-secret, warrantless bulk data collection. The bill instead requires a judge’s permission for specific, targeted searches of all electronic records.
It is an imperfect compromise, granting the NSA trust it has not earned. It sheds too dim of a light on transparency. More work is needed.
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But that compromise, as displayed by Wednesday’s unanimous vote, does not break along traditional partisan lines. The Snowden revelations split apart Congress’ default protection of the intelligence establishment, allowing populist outrage to filter into the staid halls of the Capitol.
U.S. Rep. Suzan DelBene, D-Medina, a former Microsoft executive, served the interests of the technology sector in her home district with a good amendment to the bill. It allows private companies more freedom to divulge data they are forced to hand over to intelligence agencies. The tech sector, including Microsoft, lobbied vigorously for the change after feeling the wrath of consumers when it appeared too complicit in the NSA’s snooping.
The USA Freedom Act is a belated, but welcome, reset of Congress’ weak oversight of intelligence agencies. Bulk phone metadata was being Hoovered up without court oversight, by the George W. Bush administration, and was continued into the Obama administration.
Obama now pledges to sign a bill ending that practice. Good. The balance between privacy and national security was tipped dangerously toward the latter by 9/11 and the U.S. Patriot Act.
It took Snowden, dumping NSA files from Russia without love, to begin tipping it back. His methods were criminal, but his results are unequivocal.
Editorial board members are editorial page editor Kate Riley, Frank A. Blethen, Ryan Blethen, Sharon Pian Chan, Lance Dickie, Jonathan Martin, Erik Smith, Thanh Tan, William K. Blethen (emeritus) and Robert C. Blethen (emeritus).