May 1, 2015 · 2 minutes

The House Judiciary Committee has advanced a version of the Freedom Act that limits the government's surveillance abilities without sweeping reforms.

This version of the Act is expected to end the National Security Agency's bulk data collection, limit the FBI's ability to gather information with National Security Letters, and reform the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act's court.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation praised the bill's advance even as it said a previous version of it, which placed more restrictions on surveillance but failed to pass when it was introduced, was more forward-thinking in its reforms:

Last year, the Senate failed to advance a somewhat different, stronger USA Freedom Act by two votes. We supported the bill because it reformed the secret court overseeing the spying and ended the bulk collection of calling records. The bill introduced this week is not as robust as last year's bill, but it still successfully accomplishes both of these goals.
The Hill reports that an important amendment, which would have prevented the government from forcing technology companies to include backdoors in their products and stopped agencies from receiving data without a warrant, were removed from the bill due to concerns about its chances of passing.

That first issue -- forcing tech companies to allow the government complete access to their products -- has become a hot-button topic over the last year. As Sen. Ron Wyden explained in a letter opposing the push for more backdoors:

Strong encryption and sound computer security is the best way to keep Americans’ data safe from hackers and foreign threats. It is the best way to protect our constitutional rights at a time when a person’s whole life can often be found on his or her smartphone. And strong computer security can rebuild consumer trust that has been shaken by years of misstatements by intelligence agencies about mass surveillance of Americans.
This statement came after FBI Director James Comey repeatedly said that the government needs access to consumer devices and services to fight criminals. He even brought child pornographers and terrorists into the discussion, which is far too common when authorities want increased surveillance capabilities.

Yet this bill's backers felt that it was better to make some imperfect reforms than to make no reforms at all. Striking the amendment was reportedly part of a bipartisan effort to ensure that this bill passes both the House and the Senate.

[Illustration by Brad Jonas for Pando]