Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI), one of the original authors of the USA PATRIOT Act, jointly introduced an NSA reform bill on October 29. Rep. Sensenbrenner has clearly not lost any of his love of elaborate nationalistic acronyms in the intervening years, and named his bill the ‘Uniting and Strengthening America by Fulfilling Rights and Ending Eavesdropping, Dragnet-collection, and On-line Monitoring Act”, or “USA FREEDOM ACT”. For once, the content of a bill proposed in Congress may actually bear some relation to its title, in that it appears to be a sincere effort to rein in several of the worst abuses at the NSA.
However, what has not been clear in the reporting on the Act is the specifics of what the Act actually does. A quick look at the original text shows why. As one activist lamented, “Unfortunately, the text is exceptionally hard to read … It would be much easier to read if the full text was collated with the current statutes.” Indeed it would. Luckily, Digital Fourth is on hand to provide a more detailed guide to its (very densely written) contents than is presently available.
For those who want a high-level summary of the bill, the ACLU has provided one here. What follows is a low-level, section-by-section summary of how the bill changes current law. We welcome updates and corrections as we go forward.