As recently reported in District Dispatch, the Senate Judiciary Committee is preparing to consider the latest House-passed version of the USA FREEDOM Act later this month. As that “markup” nears, ALA and more than 30 other leading national civil liberties and pro-privacy organizations have written to Majority Leader Harry Reid, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and to the Chairs and most senior minority members of the Senate Judiciary and Intelligence Committees.
In the June 4 letter, ALA and its coalition partners point out that important privacy protection features of the USA FREEDOM Act approved by the House Judiciary and Intelligence Committees were stripped out or watered down in the final version of the bill recently passed by the House. As a result, among other problems, it is not now clear whether the House-passed bill truly ends the bulk collection of telephone record data as intended and claimed. The letter thus concludes:
In the past, Section 215 of the Patriot Act was secretly interpreted to authorize a collection program far broader than the language of the section appeared to permit. The current administration is now arguing that Congress ratified its secret interpretation of that law based on secret explanations, which the executive branch provided to Congress. It is crucial that this time Congress and the public develop a complete understanding of what is and is not being authorized before Congress votes on the bill. We are confident that this can be achieved without compromising matters which must be kept secret to protect national security. We respectfully request that you take all necessary steps to do so.
In a related and very welcome development, today the CEOs of nine of the nation’s most well-known and significant internet and technology companies (including Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Twitter) released their own letter to all Members of the Senate. It echoes and underscores the concerns about the House’s version of the USA FREEDOM Act raised in the organizations’ letter described above and concludes:
Confidence in the Internet, both in the U.S. and internationally, has been badly damaged over the last year. It is time for action. As the Senate takes up this important legislation, we urge you to ensure that U.S. surveillance efforts are clearly restricted by law, proportionate to the risks, transparent, and subject to independent oversight.
No date has yet been set for Senate Judiciary Committee consideration and potential amendment of the USA FREEDOM Act but such action could well occur in just two or three weeks. Please watch District Dispatch for more news and, if you haven’t yet signed up to receive ALA “action alerts,” now’s the time!