On May 6, 2015, ARL joined two broad coalition letters to the leadership of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, one supporting the USA FREEDOM Act while the other opposes straight reauthorization of Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act.
On April 28, the USA FREEDOM Act (S.1123, H.R. 2048) was re-introduced in the Senate and House. ARL joined a letter with 26 other groups to express support for the USA FREEDOM Act because it “enhances privacy rights, transparency, and accountability.” ARL supports swift passage of this bill because it would provide meaningful reform of current NSA surveillance practices, particularly the bulk collection of data taking place under Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act, also known as the “library records” or “business records” provision. The letter notes that while this version of the USA FREEDOM Act “is not as comprehensive or protective of civil liberties as we would prefer . . . we believe the bill would significantly improve the status quo. We urge Congress to consider USA FREEDOM to be but one step towards reform. . .” Section 215 is set to expire on June 1st, 2015. CDT has a great comparison chart of the 2014 version of the USA FREEDOM Act that passed the House, the 2014 version that fell just two votes shy of cloture in the Senate, and the 2015 version.
ARL also joined a letter opposing “straight reauthorization” of Section 215. Senator McConnell proposed reauthorization through 2020 which provides no amendments to this provision that has been used by the NSA for bulk collection of telephone records. The letter, signed by 52 diverse groups, points out that “bulk surveillance programs raise serious constitutional concerns, erode global confidence in the security of digital products, and are unnecessary for national security.” Additionally, the letter points out that “In the absence of meaningful reform, it is unacceptable to rubber stamp reauthorization of any authority that the government has used to spy on millions of innocent Americans.”
On April 28, 2015, members of the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate introduced new versions of the USA FREEDOM Act. This legislation would put an end to the current bulk collection practices of the National Security Agency (NSA) taking place under Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act, also known as the “library records” or “business records” provision. ARL supports meaningful and effective surveillance reform, such as that provided by the USA FREEDOM Act of 2015.
Section 215 is currently set to sunset on June 1, 2015. However, Senator McConnell (R-KY) introduced a bill last week that would reauthorize Section 215 through 2020 with no amendments to protect privacy or limit bulk collection of data. Bipartisan efforts have been underway to promote meaningful reform to Section 215 and other provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act that impact civil liberties.
The current version of the USA FREEDOM Act represents a better version of the bill that passed the U.S. House of Representatives in the last Congress. In May 2014, the House of Representatives passed a bill that had been severely watered down twice and resulted in many co-sponsors, as well as civil society organizations and associations including ARL, withdrawing their support for the bill. The Senate version of USA FREEDOM Act in the last Congress represented meaningful reform and would have advanced further transparency measures, but fell two votes shy of the necessary 60 votes for cloture. The current version of the USA FREEDOM Act is essentially a compromise between the House and Senate versions from the last Congress.
ARL supports this version of the USA FREEDOM Act because it would effectively end bulk collection of records under Section 215 and other authorities. It also provides some measure of transparency, providing for government reporting and declassification or summaries of FISA Court decisions. While the current version could go further in protecting civil liberties, as the 2014 Senate version did, the current USA FREEDOM Act still represents effective and meaningful reform and is highly improved from the version that passed the House of Representatives last year. ARL urges Congress to move swiftly to pass the USA FREEDOM Act of 2015, restore privacy and civil liberties, and ensure that bulk collections are no longer permitted.