The US House of Representatives passed a bill on Wednesday that bans spy agencies’ mass collection of Americans’ telephone data.
The bill, dubbed USA Freedom Act, passed with an overwhelming 338-88 vote, requires spy agencies to have a court order showing reasonable suspicion about a link to international terrorism to acquire phone data or other personal records.
The move came a week after a US appeals court concluded that the US National Security Agency’s (NSA) bulk collection of Americans’ telephone metadata exceeded the scope of what Congress authorised and was therefore illegal.
Strong bipartisan support for the legislation puts pressure on the Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to have a vote on it in the Senate, that is required for the bill to go into effect as law of the land.
The NSA was using a statute known as Section 215 of the Patriot Act to justify its collection of metadata.
The Patriot Act was passed in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and is up for re-authorisation by a June 1 deadline, unless it is allowed to lapse.
McConnell and some other Republican senators such as John McCain, the Chairman of Senate Armed Services Committee, have expressed their preference to renew the Patriot Act with its existing form to continue the bulk data collection through 2020.
Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Rand Paul (R-KY), a 2016 presidential candidate known for his libertarian stance, pledged to filibuster renewal of Patriot Act with its current form.
The programme was first exposed by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden in 2013 igniting strong criticism from privacy advocates.
The metadata collected by the NSA indicates the time, date and duration of the calls, but does not include call content.
American Civil Liberties Union, which was the plaintiff in last weeks appeals court ruling, claims the Patriot Act is unconstitutional as it violates freedom of speech, and gives the government agencies the ability to conduct search without a warrant.
Defendants of the data collection programme claim it enhances the security of the citizens by enabling intelligence agencies to prevent attacks on the nation.