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Government Surveillance

Coalition Calls for Improvements to USA FREEDOM Prior to House Vote

A CDT-led coalition of public interest groups and Internet companies issued a letter to key members of the House of Representatives. The letter calls on House Leadership to improve the USA FREEDOM Act (H.R. 3361) before passing the bill out of the House. Passing the USA FREEDOM Act would be an historic event in favor of privacy, but the bill certainly does not address all the significant human rights issues raised by over-broad national security surveillance.

See the letter here.

The letter comes as the full House of Representatives prepares to vote on the USA FREEDOM Act. The bill passed unanimously out of the House Judiciary and Intelligence Committees. The letter was signed by more than 30 advocacy groups spanning the political spectrum, as well as the Reform Government Surveillance Coalition (which is comprised of major Internet companies, including Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Twitter, and Yahoo!).

The letter urges House Leadership and the leaders of the House Rules, Judiciary, and Intelligence Committees to make several clarifications and improvements to the bill to help ensure that it meets its stated goal of ending the NSA’s bulk collection of data. Specifically, the letter requests USA FREEDOM make clear:

  • That the government cannot collect communications content under Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act;
  • That except for phone records, Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act cannot be used prospectively – that is, to obtain records that do not yet exist;
  • That private parties can report the number of surveillance orders they receive by title of FISA;
  • That when a private party does not received any surveillance orders, that private party is free to say so; and
  • That the government must demonstrate “reasonable articulable suspicion” that call detail records it seeks under Section 215 are associated with a foreign power, rather than merely asserting that it has facts giving rise to such suspicion.

In addition to these clarifications, the letter includes a nonexclusive list of more substantive improvements the House should make to USA FREEDOM before passing the bill to the Senate. The letter urged the House Leadership to:

  • Reform Section 702 of FISA, the basis for the PRISM and Upstream programs;
  • Allow  private parties to be more transparent about the surveillance demands they receive, and require more transparency by the government about its surveillance activity; and
  • Appoint a Special Advocate to the FISA who is specifically tasked with protecting privacy and civil liberties.

Congress should take the opportunity to strengthen the USA FREEDOM Act and commit to reviewing other surveillance authorities. CDT will continue advocating for stronger surveillance reform and opposing efforts to weaken the bill prior to passage.