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Cybersecurity & Standards, Government Surveillance

Coalition Calls for End to All Bulk Collection of Data on Individuals

Today CDT joined a coalition of public interest groups spanning the political spectrum in a letter to Congress and the President calling for an end to all forms of bulk collection of data on individuals, above and beyond just phone records.

See the letter here.

The letter, signed by more than three dozen advocacy groups and organizations, lays out the essential elements of ending the government’s bulk collection of data. The letter states that any legislation should prohibit the bulk collection of all types of data. The letter also calls for prohibiting bulk collection under all legal authorities, not just Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act. The letter insists that the government should obtain prior court approval before demanding private records. Finally, the letter expresses support for the USA FREEDOM Act, sponsored by Rep. Sensenbrenner and Sen. Leahy.

The letter comes as Congress prepares to consider proposals from the Obama Administration and the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI) to reform the National Security Agency’s (NSA) bulk collection of telephone records. The NSA, working with the Department of Justice, is collecting the telephony metadata (who calls who, when, for how long, etc.) of everyone in the United States. This mass surveillance program has been roundly criticized by companies, civil society groups, other government bodies, and many Members of Congress. Strong consensus is forming that the bulk collection of phone records should end.

However, the government’s claim of authority for bulk collection is not limited to phone records. The government claims the authority to collect information en masse if that information can show hidden relationships between people – which can include phone records, Internet metadata, cell phone location information, and financial records. The government claims this authority under several laws, including Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act and the Pen/Trap statute.

As the letter points out, bulk collection of data by the government is only one of many issues raised by overbroad national security surveillance. CDT will continue working to advance policies that preserve individual liberty, human rights, and a free and open Internet.