Privacy groups ask Obama not to renew NSA powers

A coalition of more than two dozen privacy and digital rights groups is asking President Obama not to renew a contested National Security Agency program when its legal authority expires this week.

In a letter to be sent on Tuesday, organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union, Electronic Frontier Foundation and Electronic Privacy Information Center urged Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder not to seek another court order allowing the agency to collect Americans’ phone records.  

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The contested program is “not effective,” “unconstitutional” and “has been misused,” they wrote.

“It should end.”

The NSA needs approval from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court every 90 days in order to continue its collection of records, which track the numbers people call as well as the length and frequency of their conversations but not what they actually talk about. The current authorization runs out on Friday.

Obama in January unveiled a series of reforms requiring government agents to get a court order before searching the phone records database and limiting the searches to people two “hops” away from a target.

More sweeping reforms, however, require action from Congress.

The House passed a compromise version of a bill to effectively end the NSA program earlier this year, but many privacy groups dropped their support as it hit the floor, worrying that it had been too watered down.   

The Senate is currently debating that measure, called the USA Freedom Act, with an eye to passing it this summer.

The civil liberties advocates said the Obama administration shouldn’t wait.

“Legislative proposals are pending in Congress. More needs to be done,” they wrote in their letter.

“But the decision to renew the [program’s] authority is solely within the authority of the Department of Justice. “