Being a “techie” often blinds us to the plight of the majority — who, for one reason or another, don’t know they’re targets for tracking or simply can’t avoid being one. For many, the actions necessary to set up encryption or even abandon certain services are not feasible. Privacy should not become a luxury for an elite tech-savvy few; it matters far too much. Yet without structural reform those who lack cyber-privilege are often left exposed and tracked.
An amendment to the Defense Appropriations bill proposed by Representatives Justin Amash (R-MI) and John Conyers (D-MI) would return Section 215 to a reasonable scope, allowing the collection of important information about suspected terrorists but barring large-scale collection of information about innocent Americans. The Association of Research Libraries strongly supports this amendment, which would curtail the National Security Agency’s (NSA) program to collect the phone records of millions of Americans.
Section 215 is often referred to as the ‘library records provision,’ because libraries have been sounding the alarm about its massive scope for years. The breadth of the statute made overreach nearly inevitable; revelations about the NSA’s bulk collection of information about innocent Americans makes reform imperative.
The Amash-Conyers Amendment is a rare opportunity to send a strong, bipartisan message to the NSA that its surveillance activities have gone too far. ARL applauds Representatives Amash and Conyers and urges other Representatives to join them in voting to restore balance to the NSA’s surveillance practices.
Currently, the Act permits law enforcement to compel, with a minimal showing to a judge, any person or entity to turn over any ‘tangible thing’ related to almost any person, including innocent Americans.
The First Amendment protects the freedom to associate and express political views as a group, but the NSA’s mass, untargeted collection of Americans’ phone records violates that right by giving the government a dramatically detailed picture into our associational ties.
Today, dozens of civil liberties organizations and Internet companies — including the Electronic Privacy Information Center, National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, ThoughtWorks, and Americans for Limited Government — have joined the coalition demanding that Congress initiate a full-scale investigation into the NSA’s surveillance programs.
This morning, we sent an updated letter to Congress with 115 organizations and companies demanding public transparency and an end to dragnet surveillance.
The letter comes even as dozens of groups are organizing a nationwide call-in campaign to demand transparency and an end to the NSA’s unconstitutional surveillance program via https://call.stopwatching.us.
It’s been less than two weeks since the first NSA revelations were published in the Guardian, and it’s clear the American people want Congress to act. The first step is organizing an independent investigation, similar to the Church Committee from the 1970s, into all of the NSA’s surveillance capabilities. Our letter tells Congress:
This type of blanket data collection by the government strikes at bedrock American values of freedom and privacy. This dragnet surveillance violates the First and Fourth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution…
In addition, the StopWatching.us global petition has gathered more than 215,000 signatures since it was launched one week ago. The petition calls on Congress and the President to provide a public accounting of the United States’ domestic spying capabilities and to bring an end to illegal surveillance.
Research libraries have a deep and longstanding commitment to privacy and freedom of inquiry, and we were among the first to raise the alarm about Section 215. Indeed, shortly after passage of the PATRIOT Act, Section 215 became known as the “library records provision” because it so clearly permitted violation of the expectation of privacy that Americans have when it comes to things like what books they read.
You can read the full coalition letter, with an up-to-date list of the signees, at Stopwatching.us.
Nowadays in the digital world you can hardly own anything anymore. If you put things in the cloud, someone, somewhere might disappear it and it’s gone forever. When we grew up, ownership was what made America different than Russia.
Today, ARL joined with a broad, bipartisan coalition of 86 organizations and Internet companies – including the Electronic Frontier Foundation, reddit, Mozilla, and the American Civil Liberties Union – to send a letter to Congress demanding swift investigation and reform in light of the recent revelations about unchecked global surveillance.
The letter was accompanied by the launch of StopWatching.Us, a global petition demanding an inquiry into the scope and scale of spying activities.
Responding to recent leaked documents providing detailed evidence of the National Security Agency (NSA)’s collection of telephone records and online activity of innocent Americans and global Internet users, the groups called for a congressional investigatory committee similar to the Church Committee of the 1970s. The letter demands legal reforms to rein in spying and that public officials responsible for this unconstitutional surveillance be held accountable for their actions.
The letter denounced NSA’s spying program as illegal, noting:
“This type of blanket data collection by the government strikes at bedrock American values of freedom and privacy. This dragnet surveillance violates the First and Fourth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution, which protect citizens’ right to speak and associate anonymously and guard against unreasonable searches and seizures that protect their right to privacy.”
The groups called for a numbers of specific reforms in their open letter to Congress, including:
Reform to the controversial Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act, the “business records” section which, through secret court orders, was misused to force Verizon to provide the NSA with detailed phone records of millions of customers.
Reform to the FISA Amendment Act, the unconstitutional law that allows the government to conduct mass surveillance on American and international communications nearly without restriction.
Amendment to the state secrets privilege, the legal tool that has expanded over the last 10 years to prevent the government from being held accountable for domestic surveillance.
The formation of a Congressional investigatory committee to investigate, report, and reveal to the public the extent of domestic spying, and the creation of specific recommendations for legal and regulatory reform to end unconstitutional surveillance.
Accountability for those public officials found to be responsible.
The global petition site, StopWatching.Us, offers American citizens and residents the ability to directly contact their elected representatives to demand oversight and reform, echoing the concerns of the coalition letter. The petition will allow non-US persons to communicate their concerns directly to the White House.
Individuals who would like to speak out against NSA spying are encouraged to sign here: https://StopWatching.Us
Full text of the open letter:
Dear Members of Congress,
We write to express our concern about recent reports published in the Guardian and the Washington Post, and acknowledged by the Obama Administration, which reveal secret spying by the National Security Agency (NSA) on phone records and Internet activity of people in the United States.
The Washington Post and the Guardian recently published reports based on information provided by a career intelligence officer showing how the NSA and the FBI are gaining broad access to data collected by nine of the leading U.S. Internet companies and sharing this information with foreign governments. As reported, the U.S. government is extracting audio, video, photographs, e-mails, documents, and connection logs that enable analysts to track a person’s movements and contacts over time. As a result, the contents of communications of people both abroad and in the U.S. can be swept in without any suspicion of crime or association with a terrorist organization.
Leaked reports also published by the Guardian and confirmed by the Administration reveal that the NSA is also abusing a controversial section of the PATRIOT Act to collect the call records of millions of Verizon customers. The data collected by the NSA includes every call made, the time of the call, the duration of the call, and other “identifying information” for millions of Verizon customers, including entirely domestic calls, regardless of whether those customers have ever been suspected of a crime. The Wall Street Journal has reported that other major carriers, including AT&T and Sprint, are subject to similar secret orders.
This type of blanket data collection by the government strikes at bedrock American values of freedom and privacy. This dragnet surveillance violates the First and Fourth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution, which protect citizens’ right to speak and associate anonymously and guard against unreasonable searches and seizures that protect their right to privacy.
We are calling on Congress to take immediate action to halt this surveillance and provide a full public accounting of the NSA’s and the FBI’s data collection programs. We call on Congress to immediately and publicly:
Enact reform this Congress to Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act, the state secrets privilege, and the FISA Amendments Act to make clear that blanket surveillance of the Internet activity and phone records of any person residing in the U.S. is prohibited by law and that violations can be reviewed in adversarial proceedings before a public court;
Create a special committee to investigate, report, and reveal to the public the extent of this domestic spying. This committee should create specific recommendations for legal and regulatory reform to end unconstitutional surveillance;
Hold accountable those public officials who are found to be responsible for this unconstitutional surveillance.
Thank you for your attention to this matter.
Advocacy for Principled Action in Government
American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression
American Civil Liberties Union
American Civil Liberties Union of California
American Library Association
Association of Research Libraries
Bill of Rights Defense Committee
Center for Democracy and Technology
Center for Digital Democracy
Center for Financial Privacy and Human Rights
Center for Media and Democracy
Center for Media Justice
Competitive Enterprise Institute
Cyber Privacy Project
Defending Dissent Foundation
Detroit Digital Justice Coalition
Electronic Frontier Foundation
Entertainment Consumers Association
Fight for the Future
Foundation for Innovation and Internet Freedom
Free Software Foundation
Freedom of the Press Foundation
Friends of Privacy USA
Get FISA Right
Government Accountability Project
Institute of Popular Education of Southern California (IDEPSCA)
Knowledge Ecology International (KEI)
Law Life Culture
May First/People Link
Media Mobilizing Project, Philadelphia
National Coalition Against Censorship
New Sanctuary Coalition of NYC
Open Technology Institute
Participatory Politics Foundation
Patient Privacy Rights
People for the American Way
Personal Democracy Media
Privacy and Access Council of Canada
Public Interest Advocacy Centre (Ottawa, Canada)
Privacy Rights Clearinghouse
Rights Working Group
Rocky Mountain Civil Liberties Association
Samuelson-Glushko Canadian Internet Policy & Public Interest Clinic
Taxpayers Protection Alliance
The AIDS Policy Project, Philadelphia
TURN-The Utility Reform Network
Urbana-Champaign Independent Media Center
William C. Velasquez Institute (WCVI)
World Wide Web Foundation
Yesterday British newspaper The Guardian reported that the National Security Agency had obtained a secret court order allowing the agency to collect an extraordinary amount of information about telephone calls made by innocent Americans. The dragnet order, issued to Verizon, describes what may be the broadest surveillance program ever conducted by federal authorities. While the order doesn’t give the NSA the content of the conversations, it provides location information, time, date, and duration, and telephone numbers for all customer calls within the US and between US callers and foreign phone numbers.
Comments from Senators defending the program confirm that the request published by The Guardian is just the latest three-month extension of a 7-year program of constant collection of cell phone call and location data.
It’s breathtaking. The authority to obtain these records comes from Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act, the so-called “business records provision,” which allows the government to request any tangible thing (not just a business record) from any third party custodian. The provision used to be focused on just a few kinds of records from a few kinds of businesses – banks, car rental companies, storage units, and the like – but the PATRIOT Act broadened Section 215 so that it became near-infinite. And the standard to issue the order is that the stuff sought might be “relevant” to an ongoing investigation.
For years, libraries and our civil liberties friends (including Senators who are privy to classified briefings) have been warning about these orders. And when the PATRIOT Act came up for renewal, we have proposed language that would tighten Section 215 ever so slightly, asking for “specific and articulable facts” that connect the request to a suspected crime. Every time we have been told that these changes would endanger a mysterious, ongoing program of widespread collection.
Now we know what that program was. I wish I could say we are surprised, but, well, this is exactly what we and many, many other concerned groups have been warning about for years.