OTI Statement on Today’s Key House Committee Vote on the USA FREEDOM Act to Reform NSA Surveillance Programs

WASHINGTON, DC – The House Judiciary Committee will be today at 1 PM to vote on a revised version of the USA FREEDOM Act, a bipartisan bill to reform the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs.  New America’s Open Technology Institute (OTI) and a wide range of privacy and civil liberties organizations as well as Internet companies have voiced strong support for the original version of the bill introduced in October.
The following statement can be attributed to Kevin Bankston, OTI’s Policy Director:
“Although this new version of the USA FREEDOM Act does not contain all of the reforms that were in the previous version, it is still far and away the best NSA reform bill on the table, and we hope that the Judiciary Committee moves forward with the bill quickly.  Unlike all of the other purported reform bills, this new USA FREEDOM Act seeks to prohibit the government from engaging in any bulk collection of any type of record under any of the relevant legal authorities, an absolutely necessary and massively important reform that we strongly support.”
Bankston continued, discussing the issue of transparency reporting:
“Whatever bill Congress ultimately passes must contain strong transparency reforms, including giving Internet and telephone companies the ability to publish much more information about the number and kind of government requests they receive for user data.  As a broad coalition of organizations and companies told Congress last summer, companies should be able to report the number of requests they receive and the number of their customers affected by each type of surveillance that the government is authorized to conduct.  We strongly urge the Judiciary Committee to re-insert into this new bill strong transparency provisions like those that were in the original USA FREEDOM.” 
On the issue of backdoor searches under Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act, Bankston said:
“Similarly, we are incredibly disappointed at the removal from the USA FREEDOM Act of new protections that would ensure the NSA does not conduct backdoor searches on Americans’ data using surveillance authority meant to target people outside the United States.  Especially when we’re expecting the government’s own surveillance watchdog, the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, to issue a report on just that issue within a month or so, closing the door to reform on Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act would be premature.”
“If significant reforms on transparency reporting and backdoor searches do not make it back into the bill today, we strongly urge the Committee’s leadership to promise to revisit those issues at later stages in the legislative process.”
Bankston concluded:
“The new USA FREEDOM Act is far from perfect but it’s our best shot at meaningful NSA reform that can pass Congress anytime soon.  We support the Judiciary Committee as it moves forward to end bulk collection of telephone data and to block any future bulk collection of any other type of data.”