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A Painful Reminder. A Moment for Change

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WASHINGTON — On Wednesday, the leadership of the House of Representatives put off a final vote on the USA Freedom Reauthorization Act, moving to the brink of a vote on the legislation before abandoning plans when it became clear they may not have the numbers needed to pass the bill.

After a series of late developments over Memorial Day weekend and earlier this week, the legislation that had moved through all of the procedural steps to reach the floor this evening did not include in any form a bipartisan amendment offered by Reps. Zoe Lofgren (D–California) and Warren Davidson (R–Ohio).

Initial reports indicated the amended bill would prohibit the use of Section 215 of the Patriot Act for the warrantless surveillance of search and browser histories of people in the United States, tracking the language of a bipartisan amendment offered in the Senate by Sens. Ron Wyden (D–Oregon) and Steve Daines (R–Montana).

Free Press Action withdrew its initial support for the Lofgren–Davidson amendment, and for the passage of the underlying legislation, after it was confirmed on Wednesday that the amendment’s language had been weakened by House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff (D–California). The compromised language failed to secure fundamental privacy protections for all people, especially immigrants. In the end, that weakened amendment was not attached to the final bill.

The final bill came under withering, last-minute criticism from the left and the right alike, as Congressional Progressive Caucus members and civil-liberties advocacy groups signaled their continued opposition to a version of the USA Freedom Reauthorization Act not improved significantly enough when compared to the bill that 75 Democrats and 60 Republicans voted against in March.

Free Press Action Government Relations Director Sandra Fulton made the following statement:

“While this isn’t the end of the fight, the delay of the vote is a winning moment for civil-liberties advocates across the political spectrum, whose fierce opposition to tonight's failed version of the USA Freedom Reauthorization Act led to this latest twist.

“Before giving up on the vote this evening, Democratic House leadership seemed ready to abandon key Fourth Amendment protections for all people in the United States. That would have been a huge disappointment and a dangerous precedent. These protections are critical safeguards against a Trump administration known to use its powers to target marginalized communities and others the president regards as enemies.

“That’s why the decision to delay the vote on passage tonight is great news, even if this is just a temporary reprieve and even though the debate will continue. When it does, it will start on very different terms. Democratic leadership needlessly chose to propose opening a massive loophole in the law with the weakened and then discarded version of the Lofgren–Davidson amendment. Accepting that watered-down amendment would have jeopardized the privacy rights of everyone.

“But thanks to pressure from civil-liberties groups, civil-rights champions, Congressional Progressive Caucus members in the Democratic Party, and Republican members — who had become more and more concerned about unchecked and unwarranted spying on people in the United States — this bill is off the table for now.

“While Free Press Action has fought these sweeping surveillance powers under Democratic and Republican administrations alike, they are particularly concerning in the era of Donald Trump and Bill Barr, who have proven to be a significant threat to communities of color, activists and other vulnerable people. The House’s last-minute detour keeps alive the chance to take advantage of this moment, and to adopt strong surveillance law reforms that protect the privacy of all people.”

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