Groups Want House Hearing on Surveillance Reform Open to the Public

More than twenty privacy, civil liberties, and human rights organizations joined TCP in calling on Congress to hold public hearings on reforming Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

“In today’s global communications environment, disclosures of information about how Section 702 operates have confirmed the validity of many of the public’s and civil society’s concerns that this statute implicates the privacy rights of millions of people in the US and around the world who communicate with friends and colleagues abroad, including human rights activists who rely on secure communications for their safety,” the groups wrote in a letter delivered to House Judiciary Committee leaders on January 27.

The committee has scheduled a classified briefing on Section 702 for February 2, from which the public is barred.

Section 702 allows the NSA to collect the phone calls and e-mails of anyone reasonably believed to be a foreigner overseas, as long as acquiring “foreign intelligence” is a significant purpose of the surveillance. Because the law doesn’t require the target to be suspected of any crime, and because international communication is increasingly common, Section 702 surveillance is virtually guaranteed to “incidentally” acquire millions of communications between innocent Americans and foreigners.

Noting that there has already been significant public discussion about the surveillance programs authorized by the law, the groups wrote “[i]n the case of Section 702 implementation oversight, a completely closed hearing is unnecessary to provide members with an adequate understanding of how the law is currently implemented by the executive branch and whether that exceeds Congress’ original intent.”

In addition to TCP, other groups signing the letter organized by include American Civil Liberties Union, American Library Association, Brennan Center for Justice, Center for Democracy & Technology, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), New America’s Open Technology Institute and R Street.

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