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Senate Bill Would End NSA Phone Records Collection

by Selma Khenissi

Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) is a very busy man who focuses a lot on issues that concern his constituents in Vermont. However, on a national level, he is taking it upon himself to tackle privacy issues regarding phone use.

Sen. Leahy teamed up with Representative James “Jim” Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) to work on legislation that deals with phone data collection. The result is the Freedom Act, which was first introduced in October 2013. The main action that was taken in that initial version of legislation was to discuss the questionable privacy situation that had been affected by the pursuit of national security interests. Last May, the House of Representatives passed a modified version of the Freedom Act.

However, Senator Leahy decided to update this bill, with the emphasis being on the eradication of the NSA collecting phone records and making intelligence officials and employees accountable to Congress by letting Congress know what they’re doing instead of keeping them in the dark.

Will It Pass?

It’s too soon to say, but Edward Snowden’s revelations about the NSA in summer 2013 soon led to congressional questions about privacy concerns.

The NSA, which stands for National Security Agency, got its name in 1952. The goal of the government organization was to collect intelligence on both the foreign and domestic fronts. However, when George W. Bush was president, he signed a law that gave permission for the NSA’s surveillance tactics to be amped up. That executive decision was made in October 2001. Around the same time, Rep. Sussenbrenner, who was then Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, sponsored the Patriot Act, which was passed by a large majority. These laws were attempts to recover from 9/11 and show ardent patriotism, in the same way that the term “freedom fries” was temporarily used. Very few people objected to the bill then, but the mood in Congress is different now.

However, the Senate and House of Representatives are often at odds with each other. The main issue of contention involves President Obama, in one way or another. The disagreements between the two sections of Congress led to a federal government shutdown, which affected the financial situation of most government employees, the funding for local D.C. government services and the tourism trade in the District of Columbia.

In recent days, Obamacare is being used against Obama in a lawsuit. The House of Representatives is charging Obama with his inaction in applying a small section of the Obamacare law, but when the members of Congress were stating their case against President Obama, complaints about other aspects of his presidency arose. Although President George W. Bush was sued by congressional entities, the charges against them were dropped. For now, the lawsuit against Obama is in progress.

However, President Obama never expressed explicit opposition to the collection of phone calls or emails, so this bill stands a better chance of passing than if it were otherwise. The relationship between the Senate and the House of Representatives is really tense, especially because party loyalties are stressed upon on a frequent basis. The Senate has a Democratic majority, while the House of Representatives has a Republican majority that also includes Tea Party politicians. Party loyalty results in Congress’ inability to pass a lot of significant bills. If the bill passes in the Senate, it will be rejected in the House of Representatives. And if it passes in the House of Representatives, it will be rejected in the Senate.

Regaining The Public Trust

Although Sen. Patrick Leahy did not write a direct letter to the New York Times, the news about this beefed-up bill was published in the editorial section of the New York Times on July 27. The result is an effort to let the public know that Congress is addressing these concerns about the NSA tracking their communications. As more and more public officials resort to expressing their opinions through the opinion and editorial sections of major U.S. newspapers, including Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Russian President Vladimir Putin, U.S. public officials will increasingly do the same.

The public opinion of the U.S. Congress is abysmally low, with the latest Gallup poll putting the approval rate at 15 percent as of July 10, 2014. If this bill passes and is applied in concrete ways, then it is possible that public opinion of Congress will improve.

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