Privacy groups threaten to oppose Senate NSA bill

Thirty-eight privacy and tech groups are warning Senate leadership that they will oppose a Senate reform bill if it doesn’t go far enough to end sweeping surveillance programs at the National Security Agency (NSA).

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“Unless the version of the USA Freedom Act that the Senate considers contains substantial improvements over the House-passed version, we will be forced to oppose the bill that so many of us previously worked to advance,” the groups said in a letter on Wednesday.

Signatories include the American Civil Liberties Union, Reddit, the Center for Democracy and Technology, Access and the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute.

The letter comes as the Senate takes up the USA Freedom Act — a bill to end the NSA’s “bulk” surveillance programs and make other changes within the intelligence community — that was introduced by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Patriot Act author Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) last year.

In May, the House passed a compromise version of the bill.

While privacy advocacy groups initially supported the bill, they withdrew their support as the bill headed to the House floor, saying it had been “watered down” through eleventh-hour negotiations with the administration and House leadership.

In their Wednesday letter, the groups warn the Senate not to follow the House’s example and threaten to oppose a weak reform bill.

The groups asked that the Senate NSA reform bill, among other things, “definitively end ‘bulk’ collection,” increase transparency around U.S. surveillance and reform the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which approves government surveillance requests.

“We believe that strong legislation can effectively address our concerns and we are committed to supporting Congress in passing such legislation,” the letter said, “but we will be forced to oppose any bill that is not a substantial improvement over the version of the USA Freedom Act that was passed in the House.”