TCP Dismayed by Scope and Secrecy of Newly Disclosed Government Surveillance Actions

TCP expressed strong concerns about the scope of the National Security Agency’s (NSA) collection of telephone call metadata on tens of millions of Americans, and the PRISM program that reportedly gained direct access to the servers of nine leading U.S. Internet companies.

On June 5, The Guardian reported that it had obtained a leaked secret order issued by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) authorizing the NSA to collect telephone call metadata from tens of millions of Americans, including all domestic calls, as well as calls that originate or terminate abroad.  The order, limited to a single carrier, Verizon, was based on Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act and is reported to be a 3-month renewal of a standing order.  Subsequent reporting suggests the order disclosed by the paper is a routine renewal of a massive data collection that has been ongoing for at least several years and that other major carriers are subject to similar orders.

On June 6, The Washington Post reported on a classified NSA surveillance program known as PRISM.  This program reportedly allows the government, as part of surveillance conducted under the FISA Amendments Act, direct access to the servers of U.S. Internet companies including Facebook, Google, Apple, YouTube, Microsoft, Apple, and AOL.

These two programs demonstrate how aggressively the administration is interpreting its surveillance authorities, and dramatically illustrate the need for amendments to these laws to provide robust privacy safeguards. Sharon Bradford Franklin, senior policy counsel at The Constitution Project, has been quoted in several news stories, including NPR and The Hill highlighting TCP’s comprehensive recommendations on reforms to government surveillance. In addition, The Washington Post published her letter to the editor, explaining an additional problematic aspect of these programs:  when the government’s interpretation of surveillance laws is kept secret this undermines accountability.

For additional background information on TCP’s recommendations on reforming section 215 of the PATRIOT Act and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Amendment Act of 2008, see TCP’s comprehensive Statement on Reforming the Patriot Act and Report on the FISA Amendment Act.

The Constitution Project’s Liberty and Security Committee has also recommended civil liberties safeguards for data collection and mining programs, including those such as PRISM. For further background information on TCP’s recommendations, see Principles for Government Data Mining.

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