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Free Expression, Government Surveillance, Privacy & Data

Senate Drops Dangerous Reporting Requirement that Would Turn Internet Companies Into Speech Police

In a victory for the free expression and privacy rights of Internet users around the world, the Senate has agreed to drop a dangerous reporting requirement from the Intelligence Authorization Act that would have turned Internet companies into informants for the government. The proposal, which CDT analyzed, would have required all online communications services to report an undefined category of apparent “terrorist activity” to the government, creating a vague obligation that would inevitably lead to over-reporting of individuals’ personal information.

“This misguided proposal raised the specter of website operators, email providers, and social media networks reporting the private communications of their users directly to the government under the banner of ‘terrorist activity’,” said Emma Llansó, Director of CDT’s Free Expression Project. “Co-opting the tech companies and communications services we all rely on and turning them into government watchdogs is the wrong approach. Thankfully, wiser heads prevailed and the Senate has rejected this fundamentally flawed idea.”

Thankfully, wiser heads prevailed and the Senate has rejected this fundamentally flawed idea.

In late July, Senator Ron Wyden blocked passage of the Intelligence Authorization Act, citing concerns with the reporting requirement. CDT organized a coalition of over 30 civil liberties groups, human rights organizations, and trade associations to send a letter to the Senate, voicing the serious threats to free expression and privacy created by this proposal. Since the proposal has been dropped, Senator Wyden has lifted his hold on the bill, and the Intelligence Authorization Act is ultimately expected to pass the Senate on unanimous consent later this year. The House passed a version of the bill (without the reporting requirement) in June.