USA Freedom Act: Legal Changes and the Impact on Intelligence Collection

Date of Event



October 21, 2015

Case Western Reserve University School of Law Arthur W. Fiske Lecture Series

Institute for Global Security Law & Policy

Catherine Lotrionte Visiting Assistant Professor of Government and Foreign Service Director of the Institute for Law, Science and Global Security Georgetown University

After a heated battle that played out on Capitol Hill, the US Congress, on June 2, 2015, passed the USA Freedom Act, extending three surveillance provisions of the USA Patriot Act which had expired and amending, arguably the most controversial provision of that statute, section 215, which allowed bulk collection of US phone records by the National Security Agency. According to the new provisions on bulk collection, the NSA will no longer maintain the database of US phone records. Rather the NSA will have to request such records from the phone companies holding the records pursuant to an order from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. Both the roving wiretap and lone-wolf provisions of the USA Patriot will go back into effect under the USA Freedom Act. The new law also requires the declassification of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court opinions containing significant legal decisions. While the new law has been described as a win for privacy, the security-versus-privacy debate is far from over. Certainly, the law has been a significant post 9-11 surveillance reform measure but the ultimate ramifications for security and privacy based on what was changed and what was not changed by the law needs further public discussion. The fact that there still remain numerous legal authorities that the federal government can rely on to conduct surveillance both domestically and internationally along with the continued concern voiced by intelligence officials about the threats facing this nation call for a much closer look at the effectiveness of the reform measures with both privacy and security in mind. This talk will outline the legal changes under the USA Freedom Act and what they mean for intelligence collection. It will also identify additional existing legal authorities for intelligence collection outside the USA Freedom Act, raising questions of whether further reform may be in the future. Lastly, it will identify some of the challenges the new law will pose for those responsible for protecting the nation from threats.

Lecture Series

Arthur W. Fiske Memorial Lecture

Subject Headings

USA Freedom Act; section 215 of the USA Freedom Act; NSA; National Security Agency; national security; phone records


Case Western Reserve University School of Law

Document Type