This is the NSA reform that you've been waiting for -- sort of

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[Commentary] Reformers are now pinning their hopes on a single bill: the USA Freedom Act, only one step away from passing the House of Representatives. The USA Freedom Act, brought by Rep Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI), focuses on the most notorious government surveillance program: the NSA’s mass collection of phone call records, which it stores for up to five years.

The new bill focuses only on the calling records. Among other things, the amendment took out a section that would make it easier for companies to reveal that they’d been ordered to give up data, and it explicitly allowed intelligence agencies to gather numbers within two "hops" of the original query, instead of restricting it only to foreign agents and their contacts.

Most controversially, though, it struck out a section that applied to another NSA program: the collection of emails through Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act. The original bill explicitly barred the practice of "backdoor searches," which let NSA agents get around bans on collecting communications from Americans by searching for data that had been inadvertently caught in the dragnet.

The Intelligence Committee, meanwhile, was initially rumored to be making some unpopular changes of its own. A circulated amendment, says Center for Democracy and Technology senior counsel Harley Geiger, apparently would have made it unclear what the NSA could count as a search term when requesting data, opening a significant loophole. Unlike the Judiciary Committee, the Intelligence Committee held its hearing behind closed doors, part of a more general pattern of secrecy.

Ultimately, though, the bill that emerged was the same one the Judiciary Committee had amended and approved. Rogers and Ruppersberger praised the committee for adopting "a compromise that garnered strong, bipartisan support," leaving their own proposal in limbo.

This is the NSA reform that you've been waiting for -- sort of