Pressure mounts on Senate for NSA vote

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Outside voices are increasing their calls for the Senate to overhaul the National Security Agency, putting pressure on leaders of the upper chamber to bring legislation to a vote.

On Monday, a coalition of technology industry groups wrote a letter to Senate leaders in favor of Sen. Patrick Leahy’s (D-Vt.) USA Freedom Act, which would effectively end the NSA program that collects Americans’ phone records in bulk while adding new ways for companies to disclose what information the government requests about their users.

{mosads}The industry letter comes on the heels of a similar call from dozens of civil liberties organizations and the endorsement of the bill by Attorney General Eric Holder and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper.

“The surveillance reforms embodied in the USA Freedom Act are necessary to help restore public trust in both the U.S. government and the U.S. technology sector, as well as to continue the innovative and competitive success of the American tech sector in global markets,” wrote the five technology trade groups, which represent most of the industry’s biggest names, including Google, Microsoft and Facebook.

Last year’s disclosures from Edward Snowden had a disastrous effect on global public trust in tech companies and has been estimated to cost them tens of billions of dollars in lost profits.

The bill Leahy unveiled earlier this summer, industry groups said, “will send a clear signal to the international community and to the American people that government surveillance programs are narrowly tailored, transparent, and subject to oversight.”

The five groups signing Monday’s letter were BSA | The Software Alliance, the Computer and Communications Industry Association, the Information Technology Industry Council, the Software and Information Industry Association and the Reform Government Surveillance coalition.

The pressure could add new fire to Leahy’s push to get the bill considered this year, though the short Senate calendar and midterm elections could make action in September difficult.

Leahy unveiled his new version of the bill in July, before the upper chamber left Washington for a five-week recess.

A wide swath of senators have signed on in support of the bill — including lawmakers rarely seen on the same side of an issue, such as Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Al Franken (D-Minn.) — but Leahy will need the support of Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to get the bill to the floor this year. 

Lawmakers on the Senate Intelligence Committee have voiced the loudest skepticism, and it remains to be seem whether they will mount an effort to prevent it from reaching the floor.  

Tags Computer and Communications Industry Association Information Technology Industry Council Patrick Leahy Reform Government Surveillance Software and Information Industry Association The Software Alliance USA Freedom Act

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