As the November midterm elections inch closer, the chances of Congress taking up a widely supported bill that would reform the National Security Agency’s mass surveillance program are gradually shrinking.
In a new report by the National Journal, multiple unnamed sources said the reform bill – dubbed the USA Freedom Act – is not a priority for Congress as it returns from recess. While one Senate aide said it is “extremely unlikely” that lawmakers will consider the bill in September, it is also unclear if any action will be taken at all during the rest of the year.
Instead, members of the Senate and House of Representatives are likely to remain focused on other issues, including attempts to avoid another government shutdown by passing a continuing resolution. With elections on the horizon, some are wary of trying to weave such a large bill through Congress before voters head to the polls.
If true, the news is certainly a blow to reformers, who have been urging Congress to beef up its oversight of the National Security Agency (NSA) for months. Ever since classified material began leaking to the press via former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, civil liberties advocates have been calling for changes to the way the department operates its bulk surveillance program.
Specifically, USA Freedom Act would place metadata records – information such as the time a call was made, the duration of the call, but not the actual content of the call itself – in the hand of telephone companies instead of the NSA. If intelligence agencies wanted to acquire the data, they would have to plead their case to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA).