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USA FREEDOM Act Reinstates Expired USA PATRIOT Act Provisions

CRS Legal Sidebar USA FREEDOM Act Reinstates Expired USA PATRIOT Act Provisions but Limits Bulk Collection 6/4/2015: “Following a contentious debate and passagein the Senate, the USA FREEDOM Act (H.R. 2048) was signed into law onJune 2, 2015. The new law contains eight titles, spanning a range of national security topics from reauthorizing expired investigative authorities under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 (FISA) to enhancing criminal prohibitions against maritime and nuclear terrorism. But, the legislative history and debate surrounding the Act indicate that the principal focus of the legislation was to address the bulk collection of telephone metadata by the National Security Agency (NSA) under Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act. Section 215 generally allows the government to apply for a court order compelling any person or entity to turn over records that are relevant to a foreign intelligence investigation. Since 2006, orders under Section 215 have been used by the government to acquire large amounts of telephone metadata (excluding the audio contents of such calls). This bulk dataset was held by the NSA and could be queried by foreign intelligence investigators to, among other things, identify links between known and unknown terrorists. In June of 2013, Edward Snowden leaked information about this use of Section 215 to several media outlets, resulting in an unanticipated legislative debate regarding the use of this authority and whether it should be allowed to continue. To that end, the USA FREEDOM Act will generally prohibit the use of Section 215 for collection activities, such a bulk collection, that are not limited “to the greatest extent reasonably practicable” by a “specific selection term” (SST), defined as “a term that specifically identifies a person, account, address, or personal device, or any other specific identifier.” The Act also expressly prohibits orders under Section 215 that are limited only by broad geographic terms (such as a state or zip code) or named communications service providers (such as Verizon or AT&T). A slightly relaxed standard can be used under the amended Section 215 to obtain telephone metadata in furtherance of international terrorism investigations. Similar SST-requirements are also added to other provisions of FISA and national security letter statutes in order to prevent those authorities from being used for bulk collection.”

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