Groups Back “Systemic Reform” of Government’s Bulk Data Collection

TCP has joined a broad coalition of advocacy organizations form across the political spectrum in urging Congress and the Obama administration to put an end to the government’s bulk collection of data about individuals.  In a letter sent on April 1 to President Obama, Attorney General Holder and key Congressional leaders, the groups called for legislation prohibiting bulk collection for all types of data, not just phone records, and requiring prior court approval for each record request before a government agency could require a private entity to turn over data on an individual.

“Overbroad national security surveillance raises a host of Constitutional, human rights, and practical concerns, and we urge Congress and the administration to address systemic reform. The trust of the American people and the global public cannot be regained with legislation that achieves only modest changes to discrete programs,” the groups wrote.

The letter notes that legislation focusing only on phone records may still allow for the bulk collection of, for example, Internet metadata, location information, financial records, library records, and numerous other records, while legislation that aims to limit bulk collection solely under section 215 of the Patriot Act – the legal basis the National Security Agency claimed for its collection of telephone metadata – would still fail to prohibit the bulk collection of phone and Internet metadata using section 214 of the Patriot Act, the National Security Letter statutes frequently used by the FBI, or other authorities asserted by the government.

The groups said the USA FREEDOM Act (S. 1599/H.R. 3361), introduced last fall by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wisc.), chairman of the Crime and Terrorism Subcommittee in the House, provides the kind of comprehensive reform required.  On the other hand, they said, legislation recently introduced by members of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (H.R. 4291) fails to meet the test.

In addition to TCP, among the groups signing the letter are the ACLU, the Center for Democracy & Technology, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, Electronic Frontier Foundation, FreedomWorks, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, National Security Counselors, the Republican Liberty Caucus and the World Privacy Forum.

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