Wyden pushes email, location privacy reforms

Government surveillance critic Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) is calling for sweeping reforms to government surveillance, ranging from foreign intelligence programs to domestic laws that grant law enforcement access to email and geolocation information without a warrant.

“It is time to reform outdated legal doctrines and laws to reflect both the constitution and public expectations” as technology changes, Wyden said, speaking at a tech event in Oregon on Friday.

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“All federal legislation must recognize that changing technologies should empower the individual, and not empower the state at the individual’s expense - technological progress should never weaken the rights upon which our nation is built,” he said, according to prepared remarks.

As the Senate considers a bill to reign in U.S. government surveillance, Wyden called for an end to sweeping surveillance programs that collect information about U.S. citizens, reforms at the court that approves government surveillance requests, increased transparency around the programs and end a loophole that allows intelligence agencies to look for information about U.S. citizens while collecting information about Internet users abroad.

“If Congress can do all that it will be a great start for intelligence reform,” he said. 

“And it will go a long way toward restoring confidence in America’s technology brand, where our digital services are the envy of the world.”

Wyden, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, has been a vocal critic of U.S. government surveillance and a loud voice in the calls for surveillance reform. Last year, Wyden introduced his own surveillance reform bill. 

He is currently a supporter of Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy’s USA Freedom Act, but said the newest version of the bill unveiled before the August recess needs to be strengthened.

He called on lawmakers to reform the ways U.S. intelligence agencies collect information abroad.

“When you combine that shift with new technology that makes it much easier to obtain large amounts of data, it no longer makes sense to assume that collection done overseas will not sweep up the communications of large numbers of law-abiding Americans,” he said.

Wyden also called for an updated to a 1986 bill that gives law enforcement officials warrantless access to stored emails and touted his Geolocation Privacy and Surveillance Act.

That bill — which he and Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) reintroduced last year — would raise the bar for when companies can share a user’s geolocation information with the government and others.

He pushed back on the legal idea that a user choosing to share data with a company means the government should also have access to that data.

While some “argue that by sharing data freely with Facebook, Google, Mint, Uber, Twitter, Fitbit, or Instagram, Americans are choosing to make that data public,” it “is simply not the case,” Wyden said.

“I might not have any expectation of privacy when I post a handsome new profile picture on Facebook," he continued.

“But when I send an email to my wife, or store a document in the cloud so I can review it later, my service provider and I have an agreement that my information will stay private. Neither of us have invited the government to have a peek.”