House Committee Votes Unanimously to Rein In the NSA

| Wed May 7, 2014 6:42 PM EDT

It's pretty hard to find non-depressing news out of Washington DC these days, but this genuinely qualifies:

The House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday voted 32-0 to approve an amended version of the USA Freedom Act, a bill that would require the National Security Agency to get case-by-case approval from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court before collecting the telephone or business records of a U.S. resident.

....The USA Freedom Act, introduced last October, would prohibit bulk collection under the business-records provision of the Patriot Act, the law cited by NSA and Department of Justice officials as giving them authority for the telephone records collection program exposed by leaks from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

The bill would also prohibit bulk collection targeting U.S. residents in parts of another statute, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which the NSA has used largely to target overseas communications. The bill would take the phone records database out of NSA control and leave the records with carriers.

Remarkably, support for this bill has stayed bipartisan despite the fact that President Obama supports it. And although it's true that several provisions have been watered down a bit recently, the heart of the bill has stayed intact: a ban on bulk collection of phone records by the NSA. This is a pretty big deal, and it's supported by Democrats, Republicans, and the president.

This represents the first time in decades that the national security establishment has been restrained in any significant way. And no matter what else you think of Edward Snowden, this never would have happened without him.