OTI Statement on New Version of Surveillance Reform Bill, The USA FREEDOM Act

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WASHINGTON, DC – After months of delay, the bipartisan USA FREEDOM Act intended to reform the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs has been scheduled for a mark-up in the Judiciary Committee of the House of Representatives on Wednesday at 1 PM.  The version of the bill to be considered is a new manager’s amendment version of the bill just released to the public today by its sponsor Representative Sensenbrenner.  The new version of the bill was the result of bipartisan negotiation between Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte and John Conyers, the Committee’s top democrat.
Like the original USA FREEDOM Act, the new bill appears intended to prohibit the government’s bulk collection of records—whether phone records, Internet records, or other records—and would only allow specific records to be handed over after court approval of each request.  These were the key demands for reform outlined in a recent letter to lawmakers from a range of privacy and civil liberties organizations including New America’s Open Technology Institute (OTI).  Unlike the original version of the Act, however, several other key reforms—such as provisions allowing Internet and phone companies to publish more information about the demands they receive, which OTI and a coalition of companies and organizations have been pressing for since last summer—have been removed, while the bill also provides for a new type of court order that the President has requested, allowing for continuous collection by the government of specified telephone records.
“Although we’re still analyzing the details of this new version of the USA FREEDOM Act, especially the new authority for the collection of phone records that the President requested, we’re incredibly pleased to see the leaders of the Judiciary Committee crossing party lines to come together and move forward on a bill that’s clearly intended to prevent the bulk collection of records by the government—be they phone records, Internet records, or any other records,” said OTI Policy Director Kevin Bankston.  “Meanwhile, we’re dismayed to see that the strong transparency provisions in the original USA FREEDOM Act, which would have allowed Internet companies to engage in more reporting about the number and kind of government demands for information they receive and which were broadly supported by both industry and privacy advocates, have been removed.  Greater transparency is a key ingredient for accountability, especially when it comes to how the government uses its surveillance powers, and we urge members of the Judiciary Committee to ensure that those reforms make their way back into the bill.”

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