Groups Call for Open Process on Surveillance Bill in the Senate

TCP has joined a coalition of civil liberties, human rights, and other public interest organizations in urging the Senate to give the USA Freedom Act “careful, public and deliberate consideration” as the bill moves through the legislative process.

“[W]e respectfully request that the Judiciary and Intelligence Committees engage in complete and open consideration of the constitutional and other issues raised by HR 3361 that is needed to adequately examine and understand the full import of the language being voted on and to enable informed public debate on these critical issues,” the groups wrote in a letter delivered to Senate leaders on June 4.

The legislation was originally introduced by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Representative James Sensenbrenner (R-Wisc.) to curtail bulk collection of phone data by the National Security Agency and reduce the NSA’s overbroad surveillance of private data through other programs, but the House-passed version significantly watered-down several key provisions, arguably expanding the very surveillance authorities it sought to rein in.

The groups noted that the final version of the legislation adopted by the House, which was negotiated in secret between House leaders and the intelligence community, differs markedly from both the original bill and the bill reported out of the House committees.  Yet, it was made available to the public less the 48 hours before it was considered by the full House, was submitted under a rule that allowed for no amendments and voted on after only an hour of debate.  As a result of changes to the bill, more than half of its cosponsors in the House ended up voting against it.

Following the House vote on May 22, TCP urged surveillance reformers in the Senate to “stay in the game and work for additional improvements.”  TCP supports a strengthened USA Freedom Act that would:

  • Set clearer limits on the NSA’s authority to collect domestic business records under Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act;
  • Close the loopholes in Section 702 of the 2008 FISA Amendments Act that permit reverse targeting, “about” (or subject matter) targeting, and warrantless searches of domestic phone call and email content;
  • Increase NSA reporting to Congress and the public, and allow telecom and Internet companies to report numbers of surveillance orders received and persons affected; and
  • Empower a security-cleared special advocate to represent the public interest before the secret FISA Court.

Joining TCP in signing the letter were 30 organizations including the ACLU, the Center for Democracy and Technology, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

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