More than 40 advocacy organizations from across the political spectrum joined The Constitution Project in calling on Senate leaders to move forward with legislation to rein in the bulk collection of Americans’ phone records by the National Security Agency.
In a September 4 letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and others, the groups urged the Senate to quickly pass a compromise version of the USA Freedom Act (S. 2685) that Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) negotiated with the Obama administration and key stakeholders in the private sector, including TCP, without adding a controversial data retention requirement. The legislation is aimed at curbing dragnet collection of millions telephone records by the NSA and providing greater transparency of policies underlying government surveillance programs, in part by allowing the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to appoint a special advocate to represent privacy concerns whenever it considers cases presenting “a novel or significant interpretation of the law.” TCP released a report earlier in the year that recommended the creation of a special advocate as a necessary component of any surveillance reform.
The letter also warned the Senate to steer clear of a “gravely concerning” cybersecurity sharing information bill adopted earlier by the Senate Intelligence committee. The groups said that that legislation (S. 2588) would significantly expand information collected by the NSA and permit unlimited information sharing with other government agencies without sufficiently protecting personally identifiable information.
“The Senate cannot seriously consider controversial information-sharing legislation without first completing the pressing unfinished business of passing meaningful surveillance reform,” the groups wrote.
In addition to TCP, privacy and civil liberties advocates joining the letter include the ACLU, American Library Association, Center for Democracy and Technology, Competitive Enterprise Institute, Electronic Frontier Foundation, FreedomWorks, New America’s Open Technology Institute, Republican Liberty Caucus and The Rutherford Institute.