Groups Say Surveillance Reform Must Come Before Extending Patriot Act

A broad coalition of technology companies and privacy advocates, including The Constitution Project, is asking Congress to rein in the bulk collection of private information by the intelligence agencies before voting to extend key Patriot Act surveillance authorities that are currently set to expire on June 1.

In an open letter to the Obama administration and key lawmakers, the coalition urged Congress to provide a “clear, strong, and effective end to bulk collection practices” currently permitted by the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, or FISC, under the Patriot Act.  It also asked Congress to create “transparency and accountability mechanisms” for both government and company reporting on surveillance requests.  Calling the current situation “untenable,” the group vowed to fight efforts to enact legislation that does not contain the necessary reform provisions.

At issue is the National Security Agency’s daily gathering of millions of records logging domestic phone call times, lengths and other “metadata.”  The program was authorized by the FISC in secret under Section 215 of the Patriot Act — one of the expiring provisions.  The extent of the program became known nearly two years ago when former NSA contractor Edward Snowden leaked information about it to the media.

The groups noted that the reforms outlined in the letter represented a bare minimum, and that some of the signers might have others changes they considered essential.  In fact, TCP earlier said any reform proposal must also require the FISC to appoint a special advocate – a security-cleared lawyer to represent surveillance targets and the general public – whenever it receives a new data-collection request that is not aimed at specific individuals.

“Now is the time to take on meaningful legislative reforms to the nation’s surveillance programs that maintain national security while preserving privacy, transparency, and accountability,” the groups wrote.

Among the technology firms signing the letter are Apple, CloudFlare, Google, Microsoft, Mozilla and Twitter.  In addition to TCP, some of the other privacy advocates in the coalition include the ACLU, the American Library Association, the Center for Democracy and Technology, Committee to Protect Journalists, Competitive Enterprise Institute, the Computer & Communications Industry Association, Electronic Frontier Foundation, FreedomWorks, and New America’s Open Technology Institute.

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