Washington, DC – Ahead of the Senate returning from the August recess this coming Monday, New America’s Open Technology Institute (OTI) sent a letter yesterday to the Senate leadership on behalf of a broad and bipartisan coalition of over 40 civil liberties and human rights organizations, urging that the Senate make its top legislative priority passing the updated version of the USA FREEDOM Act (S. 2685). In addition to pressing for immediate passage of that surveillance reform bill without the addition of a new data retention requirement for phone companies or any other weakening of the bill’s reforms, the letter urges the Senate to halt its consideration of the gravely concerning Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act of 2014 (CISA, S. 2588).
This letter follows on the heels of Tuesday’s letter from Attorney General Eric Holder and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper to Senator Patrick Leahy, USA FREEDOM’s lead sponsor, concluding that the bill represents “a reasonable compromise” that “will accommodate [the Intelligence Community’s] operational needs while providing appropriate privacy protections.” The government’s letter also makes clear that the Obama Administration does not think that Congress need to pass any new data retention mandate requiring phone companies to store more records than they already store: “The Intelligence Community believes that, based on communications providers existing practices in retaining metadata, the bill will retain the essential operational capabilities of the [National Security Agency’s] existing bulk telephone metadata program while eliminating bulk collection.”
The following statement can be attributed to Kevin Bankston, OTI’s Policy Director:
“In the short time it has before the election, the Senate should be focused on reining in the NSA with the USA FREEDOM Act, rather than giving the NSA freer reign over American’s data with a cybersecurity information-sharing bill. Now that the USA FREEDOM Act has the broad support of privacy advocates, the Internet industry, and the Intelligence community, there’s no excuse for stalling: the Senate should hurry up and pass this bill, and the House should quickly follow suit. It’s also time to put the final nail in the coffin of any ideas about a new data retention requirement for phone companies, which would be a poison pill. Privacy advocates, telecommunications companies and the Internet community would fiercely oppose it, while the NSA itself is saying it doesn’t need it. Especially considering the serious and continuing costs of the NSA’s mass surveillance, not only to our privacy but to the world’s trust in our Internet industry, we can’t afford to let this opportunity pass by and be forced to start over again next year. The time for surveillance reform is now.”
In addition to pressing for quick passage of the USA FREEDOM Act free of data retention mandates or any other weakening amendment, the privacy and human rights community reiterated in yesterday’s letter its strong opposition to CISA. As the groups’ letter states,
“The Senate cannot seriously consider controversial information-sharing legislation such as CISA without first completing the pressing unfinished business of passing meaningful surveillance reform…. Passing effective and comprehensive surveillance reform is necessary not only to protect our privacy, but also to restore the trust of Internet users around the world who rely on, and are relied upon by, the U.S. Internet industry. The USA FREEDOM Act, as reintroduced last month, would substantially advance both of those goals, whereas CISA would undermine them.”
The following statement can be attributed to Robyn Greene, OTI’s Policy Counsel specializing in surveillance and cybersecurity issues:
“We’re hopeful that Congress will soon pass USA FREEDOM. But Congress shouldn’t give privacy with one hand by passing surveillance reform, and then take privacy away with the other hand by moving forward with a dangerously broad cybersecurity bill that would give the NSA easy access to vast amounts of Americans’ Internet data. The Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act currently being considered in the Senate would be a major step back on privacy, especially compared to the Senate’s last cybersecurity bill, the much more privacy-protective Cybersecurity Act of 2012. After over a year of endless revelations about the NSA’s surveillance programs, often involving massive hacking operations and the undermining of widely-used Internet services and security protocols relied on by everyday Internet users, CISA’s approach to cybersecurity is wholly inadequate. When it comes to cybersecurity, rather than recycling old ideas about cyber information sharing and weakening privacy protections, Congress should focus on cleaning up the mess that the NSA has made of our Internet.”