Tag Archives: nsa reform

ARL Joins Broad Coalition Calling for Surveillance Reform

On Wednesday, March 25, 2015, ARL joined a coalition of 47 advocacy groups, technology companies and trade associations in sending a letter to President Obama, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, Attorney General Eric Holder, Director of National Security Admiral Michael Rogers, and Congressional leadership advocating for significant surveillance reform. Key portions of the PATRIOT Act, including Section 215 (known as the “business records” or “library records” provisions), which has been used as the basis for bulk collection of records, are set to sunset on June 1, 2015.

While these groups hold differing opinions on the best and most appropriate reforms, all came together in agreement that reform must include: 1) Ending bulk collection under Section 215 provision, as well as under Section 214, the provision governing pen registers and trap and trace deices; and 2) Transparency and accountability measures for government and company reporting as well as declassifications of Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court decisions.

These elements are minimum components to a surveillance reform package. The letter concludes, “It has been nearly two years since the first news stories revealed the scope of the United States’ surveillance and bulk collection activities. Now is the time to take on meaningful legislative privacy, transparency, and accountability.”

Given the quickly approaching June 1 deadline, Congress must move swiftly to pass surveillance reform.   Last November, the U.S. Senate failed to advance the USA FREEDOM Act, falling two votes shy of the necessary 60 votes for cloture, which would have provided meaningful reform to current NSA practices. The Senate version of the USA FREEDOM Act, introduced by Senator Leahy (D-VT) would have ended the current practice of bulk collection of phone records, would have made meaningful reforms to the FISA Court, and included enhanced transparency. ARL urges Congress to act now and pass meaningful reforms, such as those proposed by Senator Leahy’s bill.

USA FREEDOM Act Fails to Advance in Senate

Cross-posted from ARL News

ARL is disappointed that the US Senate failed to advance the USA FREEDOM Act (S. 2685), a bill that would have provided meaningful reform to current National Security Agency (NSA) surveillance practices and protect civil liberties. A November 18, 2014, evening vote on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-NV) cloture motion to proceed with the USA FREEDOM Act fell two votes shy of the necessary 60 votes.

The USA FREEDOM Act, reintroduced by Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Patrick Leahy (D-VT) in July, would have ended the current practice of bulk collection of phone records and prevented bulk collection of other records under Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act, also known as the “library records” or “business records” provision. Additionally, S. 2685 included several reforms to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), such as requiring unclassified summaries of FISC opinions with information necessary to understand the impact on civil liberties and creating a Special Advocate position charged with protecting privacy and civil liberties. Leahy’s bill also included enhanced transparency provisions.

The USA FREEDOM Act had broad support of advocacy groups and technology companies. The bill also gained support from key individuals, including President Obama, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, and Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Dianne Feinstein (D-CA).

Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act will expire in June 2015 unless the US Congress votes to reauthorize the provision, and a continued fight over this provision is expected. Last year, revelations about the NSA program, including the breadth and scope of bulk collection of data, raised serious concerns regarding curtailment of civil liberties and the compatibility of these programs with the Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution. Even prior to these disclosures, the library community expressed reservations regarding overly broad national security powers and has repeatedly urged for necessary reforms.

While ARL is disappointed that the US Senate failed to address the serious civil liberties concerns raised by NSA surveillance practices and bring the USA FREEDOM Act to a vote, the Association remains hopeful that meaningful reform can still be achieved as the fight over bulk collection of records continues. ARL is grateful to Chairman Leahy for his leadership on NSA reform and looks forward to continuing to work with his and other offices on these important civil liberty issues in the future.

Senate to Vote on Future of USA FREEDOM Act

Today, November 18, 2014, the U.S. Senate is expected to vote on a cloture motion by Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) on the USA FREEDOM Act (S.2685), determining whether the Senate will move forward with a vote on this important piece of legislation. The motion needs sixty votes to proceed to the floor. Senator Leahy (D-VT) re-introduced a new version of the USA FREEDOM Act on July 29, 2014, which includes significant improvements over the version passed in the House (H.R. 3361) in May. Leahy’s bill, which has bipartisan support, provides for meaningful reform and protects civil liberties.

Leahy’s bill would end the current practice of bulk collection of phone records and prevent bulk collection of other records under Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act, also known as the “library records” or “business records” provision. It would also make several reforms to the FISA Court, such as requiring that unclassified summaries of FISC opinions include information necessary to understand the impact on civil liberties and create a Special Advocate position charged with protecting privacy and civil liberties. Leahy’s version of the USA FREEDOM Act also includes enhanced transparency provisions.

ARL, along with a broad coalition of advocacy groups, supports this bill and has called for swift passage of this new version, without any dilution or amendment. The White House has now endorsed the bill, as well.

Senator Leahy’s USA FREEDOM Act represents a significant step forward in reforming NSA surveillance practices. ARL urges the Senate to move forward on the USA FREEDOM Act and pass the bill in its current form.

Coalition Calls for Swift Passage of USA FREEDOM Act; Express Concerns Over Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act

On September 4, 2014, the Association of Research Libraries joined a coalition of 43 civil liberties, human rights and public interest organizations sent a letter to Senate leadership supporting swift passage of the USA FREEDOM Act (S. 2685) and expressing concerns regarding the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act of 2014 (CISA, S. 2588).

The letter urges the Senate to pass the S. 2685 in its current form, noting that this version of the USA FREEDOM Act would end bulk collection of records under Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act, a provision known as the “library records” or “business records” provision,” as well as under National Security Letter authorities. As the letter explains, S. 2685 also provides for other significant reforms including enhanced transparency, appointing of a special panel of civil liberties and privacy advocates to the FISA court, and limiting the purpose for which call detail records collected under Section 215 may be used.

Given these improvements, the signatories to the letter are “eager for Congress to pass this legislation swiftly and without weakening the bill.” As these groups previously expressed, Congress should not weaken the USA FREEDOM Act through consideration of new mandatory data retention requirements. The letter urges the Senate to make passage of the USA FREEDOM Act (S.2685) a legislative priority for September.

The letter then notes its opposition to and concerns regarding the CISA, pointing out that “Ironically, just as Congress is struggling to pass meaningful surveillance reform to rein in the NSA, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence has approved a problematic bill that would give the NSA even more access to American’s data.” Advocacy groups have previously written to Congress and the President opposing CISA because the bill would pose serious threats to privacy by allowing information to automatically be disseminated to the NSA and other government agencies.

The letter concludes:

We therefore urge the Senate to swiftly pass the USA FREEDOM Act (S. 2685) without any amendments that would weaken its protections or create any new data retention mandates, and without taking up the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act (S. 2588 in its current form. The Senate cannot seriously consider controversial information-sharing legislation such as CISA without first completing the pressing unfinished business of passing meaningful surveillance reform.

Senator Leahy Introduces New Version of USA FREEDOM Act, Includes Significant Improvements Over House Version

On July 29, 2014, Senator Leahy (D-VT) re-introduced a new version of the USA FREEDOM Act, co-sponsored by Senators Lee (R-UT), Durbin (D-IL), Heller (R-NV), Franken (D-MN), Cruz (R-TX), Blumenthal (D-CT), Udall (D-NM), Coons (D-DE), Heinrich (D-NM), Markey (D-MA), Hirono (D-HI), Klobuchar (D-MN), and Whitehouse (D-RI). ARL supports this version, which includes major improvements over the version passed in the House (H.R. 3361) on May 22, 2014, including more effective language to end bulk collection and protect civil liberties and strengthened transparency provisions. ARL has signed on to two letters supporting the new version of the USA FREEDOM Act, including one that focuses on the enhanced transparency provision and one that addresses the bill more comprehensively. Both letters urge Congressional leadership to act swiftly and pass the new version, without any dilution or amendment.

The version that passed the U.S. House of Representatives represented a significantly watered down version after changes were made by the House Rules Committee on the eve of the floor vote on the bill. Although the House passed the bill, half of the original House co-sponsors to the USA FREEDOM Act withdrew their support and opposed the weakened version because it did not go far enough in curtailing the Government’s ability to conduct bulk collection and failed to protect privacy and civil liberties in the same manner as prior versions. Organizations that originally supported the USA FREEDOM Act withdrew support for the House version and urged the Senate to ensure meaningful reform.

Leahy’s version narrowly defines a “specific selection term” in an effort to effectively curb bulk collection. It clearly prohibits the collection of broad swaths of information under Section 215—the provision known as the “business records” or “library records” provision—such as all information related to a broad geographic region (such as a city, state, zip code or area code). It also enhances minimization procedures, requiring the government to delete data it has collected on individuals that are not targets of the investigation or contacts of such individuals and limits the purpose for which call detail records may be generated.

The new version of the bill would also make several reforms to the FISA Court, such as requiring that unclassified summaries of FISC opinions include information necessary to understand the impact on civil liberties. It would also require disclosure of FISC opinions of “new construction or interpretation of the term ‘specific selection term.’” It provides further protections by providing for a Special Advocate position charged with protecting privacy and civil liberties and requires that the Office of the Special Advocate has access to relevant legal precedent and materials necessary to participate in FISC proceedings.

Finally, Leahy’s new version improves on the House version through enhanced transparency provisions. It requires the government to report on the number of U.S. persons whose information was collected and number of searched conducted under Section 215. It reduces the time a company must wait after receiving a FISA order before reporting on it from two years to one year.

A detailed comparison between the House-passed version and Senator Leahy’s new version is available through the Center for Democracy and Technology.

U.S. House of Representatives Passes Amendment to End NSA Backdoor Spying

On June 19, 2014, the U.S. House of Representatives voted 293-123 to pass an amendment to the Defense Appropriations bill to cut funding for NSA backdoor spying under Section 702 of the FISA Amendments. Current NSA practices include the collection of vast amounts of information and, provided that there is a foreign “target,” the NSA can search these collections for communications of U.S. persons, thus providing a “backdoor” method of conducting surveillance on Americans. This Amendment, originally primarily sponsored by Representatives Massie (R-KY), Sensenbrenner (R-WI) and Lofgren (D-CA), would restore Fourth Amendment protections by cutting funding of current NSA practices of conducting these warrantless searches.

ARL Disappointed by Version of USA FREEDOM Act Passed by US House of Representatives

Today, May 22, 2014, the US House of Representatives voted 303 to 121 to pass H.R. 3361, the USA FREEDOM Act, after amending the bill twice in committees. The original version of the bill, which currently remains unaltered in the Senate, had 151 House co-sponsors. Some of these co-sponsors withdrew their support and opposed the version of H.R. 3361 reported out of the House Rules Committee on May 21, 2014, because of the significant changes made. Even several of those co-sponsors who voted in favor of H.R. 3361 expressed disappointment that the bill did not go far enough in curtailing the Government’s ability to conduct bulk collection of records and failed to protect privacy and civil liberties in the same manner as the prior versions.

The Association of Research Libraries (ARL) supported the version of the USA FREEDOM Act originally introduced in the House and Senate in October 2013, as well as the version altered by the Manager’s Amendment, which was unanimously passed by the House Judiciary Committee and the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence on May 15, 2014. After unanimous passage through these two committees, the bill was again altered when reported out of the House Rules Committee. The version passed on the House Floor today represents a significantly watered down version of the USA FREEDOM Act.

ARL, like many civil liberties and privacy groups that previously expressed public support of the bill, has withdrawn its support for the weakened version of H.R. 3361. Although the version of the bill passed by the House today does represent a step toward reform, ARL is disappointed by the changes made at the eleventh hour that remove clarity and weaken protections afforded by earlier versions of the bill.

The prior versions of the USA FREEDOM Act would have ended bulk collection of records under Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act, also known as the “business records” or “library records” provision. The version passed unanimously through the Judiciary and Permanent Select Committees would have ended bulk collection by requiring that records requested and obtained by intelligence authorities be limited to a “specific selection term,” defined as “a term used to uniquely describe a person, entity, or account.” The version that went to the House Floor, however, potentially expands the scope of a specific selection term by ambiguously defining “specific selection term” as “a discrete term…used by the Government to limit the scope of information or tangible things sought.” ARL is concerned that this broad definition does not go far enough in limiting the collection of records, and the ambiguity could result in intelligence authorities overreaching and conducting large-scale collections once again.

Although ARL is disappointed by the version of the USA FREEDOM Act passed by the House today, the Association remains hopeful that the Senate will continue to work from the original version and ensure meaningful reform, including strong privacy protections for communications and records of US persons.

An excellent, in-depth analysis from the Center for Democracy and Technology is available here.