U.S. House votes to stop collecting telephone data on American citizens

A bill has been approved that will put an end to the collection of the private telephone data of U.S. citizens.

The U.S. House of Representatives approved the bill in a 338-88 vote in favor of the USA Freedom Act.

The program, which is currently in place to collect the telephone data of U.S. citizens, expires on June 1. Instead of a renewal, the program will end the bulk collection of domestic telephone “metadata” and instead, give intelligence agencies access to phone data and other records only when a court finds reasonable reason for international terrorism.

Several senior Republican senators, including Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, said they would prefer to renew the existing program, which is authorized under the USA Patriot Act and passed due to the September 11 attacks.

Continuing the program would only face strong resistance in the House. Republican Rand Paul, a 2016 presidential candidate, and Democrat Ron Wyden said they would quash any attempt to extend the plan.

The House says the FBI uses the Patriot Act in combination with court rulings to gather information on hotel stays and wire transfers by companies including Western Union. Under the Freedom Act, these powers remain, however, data-collection for investigators would be narrowed down to instances the government targets.

“The big news in the USA Freedom Act is to limit bulk collection programs,” said Georgia Institute of Technology professor Peter Swire, who served on a review commission appointed by President Barack Obama after Snowden’s disclosures.

“One (court) order would no longer authorize a bulk collection program, whether for telephone metadata or for other purposes,” Swire said.

The White House said Obama supports the Freedom Act reforms and would sign the bill into law. The program was exposed in 2013 by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden.