Privacy groups push Senate for stronger NSA reforms


A coalition of privacy groups is pushing the Senate to pass a stronger surveillance reform bill than the USA Freedom House that recently sailed through the House.

“The result we seek is legislation that will protect constitutional and human rights and assure necessary oversight of the intelligence community’s collection of individuals’ personal information,” 30 groups said in a letter to leadership on Thursday.

Signatories include the ACLU, the Center for Democracy and Technology, Demand Progress and the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute.

The Senate Intelligence Committee is slated to take up the House bill Thursday, and Senate Judiciary Committe Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) has said he will turn his attention to NSA reform later this summer with an eye on strengthening privacy provisions in the House-passed bill.

In their letter to Senate leadership and the leadership of the Senate Intelligence and Judiciary committees, the privacy groups pointed to eleventh-hour changes to the USA Freedom Act in the House before the final vote on the bill.

While the committees passed identical language that had the support of tech companies and reform advocates, “the final bill passed by the House markedly differs from both the original bill and the bill reported out of the committees,” the groups wrote.

A coalition of major tech companies and many privacy advocates pulled their support for the bill as it headed to a floor vote last month.

The changes, made “apparently at the request of the Intelligence Community were many, substantive and complex,” they continued, adding that they “are very concerned about the changes made to the bill in the House and the breadth of the surveillance that the bill could abusively be read to authorize.”

The reform process in the Senate should be open to ensure that reform measures don’t authorize broad surveillance powers unbeknownst to members of Congress and the public, the letter said.

The groups asked for “careful, public and deliberate consideration of this legislation by the Senate ... to ensure that the legislation truly achieves its unambiguously defined objectives.”

“It is crucial that this time Congress and the public develop a complete understanding of what is and is not being authorized before Congress votes on the bill,” they wrote.