WASHINGTON, DC – Yesterday evening, Senator Reid moved to end debate and call the USA FREEDOM Act (S. 2685) up for a vote on the Senate floor, a vote that is expected as early as next week. The Open Technology Institute (OTI) applauds this action, and along with a broad and bipartisan coalition of over forty civil liberties and human rights groups, strongly supports the passage of the USA FREEDOM Act.
As we concluded in our recent paper on the costs of surveillance, in addition to threatening privacy and civil liberties, the National Security Agency’s mass surveillance programs are undermining America’s Internet economy and tech industry, interfering with our foreign relations, and threatening cybersecurity for everyone. Passing the USA FREEDOM Act is a necessary first step toward achieving comprehensive surveillance reforms and restoring international trust. The USA FREEDOM Act would:
- Ban indiscriminate bulk collection of records, including prohibiting government collection of records for everyone in a particular geographic area or using a particular communication service;
- Allow much more detailed transparency reporting by companies and require significantly more detailed transparency reporting by the government about the NSA’s surveillance activities; and
- Reform the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court’s processes by creating new Special Advocates whose duty is to advocate to the court in favor of privacy and civil liberties, and by requiring the government to publicly release redacted copies or summaries of the court’s significant decisions.
The bill has been endorsed not only by the privacy community but also by the technology industry and the Attorney General & Director of National Intelligence, and enjoys support from a broad range of policymakers across both parties.
“There’s practically nothing that President Obama, Tea Party Republicans, the tech industry, the privacy community and the intelligence community can agree on, yet they all agree that it’s time to pass the USA FREEDOM Act,” said Kevin Bankston, OTI’s Policy Director. “Congress and the Administration have been debating, negotiating and re-negotiating USA FREEDOM for over a year now. Rather than risk a fight within the Republican party over surveillance reform next year when key provisions of the Patriot Act are set to expire, the Republicans that will soon be assuming leadership in both the House and Senate should work now with their Democratic colleagues to clean the slate and pass the bill before the end of the lame duck session. No more excuses—it’s time to get this thing done.”
While OTI strongly supports the passage of the USA FREEDOM Act as introduced, we would strongly oppose any amendments that would weaken or undermine the provisions of the bill. We are particularly opposed to amendments that would create new requirements for telecommunications companies to retain data that they don’t already store for their own business purposes, or authorize new cybersecurity information sharing as has been proposed in CISA (S. 2588), the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act.
A new data retention mandate would impose significant economic and technical burdens on America’s Internet and communications industries. Further, it would pose significant threats to Americans’ privacy and data security. The president indicated he does not support data retention, the Director of National Intelligence has stated that it is unnecessary to protect national security, and the advocacy community and major tech and communications companies including Verizon are on record as strongly opposing them.
CISA also poses a serious threat to Americans’ privacy and Internet security as it would authorize automatic information sharing with the NSA, a broad scope of cybersecurity countermeasures that could harm innocent Internet users, and sweeping liability protections that would absolve companies from harms associated with actions taken pursuant to the bill.
“Next week, the Senate has the opportunity to pass historic reforms that will rein in the NSA’s mass surveillance programs, significantly improve protections for Americans’ privacy, and increase the public’s understanding of the scope of the NSA’s activities,” said Robyn Greene, OTI Policy Counsel specializing in surveillance and cybersecurity. “It’s critical that the Senate pass USA FREEDOM without tacking on toxic amendments like a new data retention mandate or unrelated cybersecurity information-sharing legislation. Such amendments would kill the bill and threaten the very privacy that the USA FREEDOM Act seeks to help restore.”
Policy Director, Open Technology Institute, New America
Media Relations Associate, New America