Tech groups dissatisfied with NSA reform bill

A slew of tech companies and advocacy groups ranging from Facebook to FreedomWorks are hoping to change a sweeping overhaul of the National Security Agency before the bill hits the House floor.

In a letter to House leaders this week, dozens of organizations pushing for reform of the embattled spy agency asked for “several technical corrections and clarifications” and “substantive improvements” to ensure that the bill “is not misinterpreted and its stated goal of ending bulk collection is met.”

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“Passing the USA Freedom Act would be an historic event in favor of privacy, but the bill certainly does not address all the significant human rights issues raised by over-broad national security surveillance,” wrote Harley Geiger, senior counsel with the Center for Democracy and Technology, in a blog post.

Along with other privacy groups and top Web companies, the organization listed five minor language edits it wanted made to clarify the USA Freedom Act’s intent and ensure that agents at the NSA cannot get the content of people’s communications, among other measures.

Additionally, the groups list three more dramatic reforms to limit “backdoor” searches on Americans, allow private companies to disclose more information about the requests for data they receive from the government and appoint a special advocate to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, instead of a panel of advisors.

The letter was signed by major Web companies like Facebook, Google and Apple, which have banded together under the Reform Government Surveillance coalition, as well as privacy and civil rights advocates like the Center for Democracy and Technology, the American Civil Liberties Union and FreedomWorks. 

The USA Freedom Act, which advocates had rallied around for months, could hit the House floor as soon as next week. The bill sailed through both the Judiciary and Intelligence committees earlier this month after lawmakers scaled back some of its earlier reforms.

Among other changes, the bill would end the NSA's bulk collection of information about people's phone calls and require that agents obtain a court order before searching records kept by phone companies.