New anti-NSA coalition pledges to ‘Fight 215’

Dozens of critics of government surveillance are rallying around an effort to kill a controversial provision of the Patriot Act when it comes up for renewal before Congress later this year.

Spearheaded by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), 34 civil liberties groups on Wednesday unveiled the “Fight 215” campaign to pressure Congress to end parts of the law that empower the National Security Agency (NSA).

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The American public has called for a change, and ‘Fight 215’ is our opportunity to bring American law back in line with our Constitution,” EFF representative Nadia Kayyali said in a statement.

While NSA critics have long pushed lawmakers to act against the legislation, new momentum from activists — and focus from HBO’s John Oliver on "Last Week Tonight" — could help push the issue back into the spotlight and alter some legislators’ judgment. As part of the new effort, the reformer coalition is urging supporters to contact their member of Congress and push for change. 

Section 215 of the Patriot Act authorizes government agencies to collect “tangible things” in order to investigate potential terrorism or foreign spying plots.

The NSA has relied upon the provision to authorize its bulk collection of Americans’ phone calls, which is the most controversial operation revealed by Edward Snowden nearly two years ago.  

Along with two other parts of the law, Section 215 is up for renewal before Congress on June 1. By that date, lawmakers will either have to reauthorize the current law, reform it or allow it to expire completely. 

Despite the looming date, key lawmakers have yet to begin serious work on legislation, which could point towards a heated debate as the deadline approaches. 

In addition to EFF, groups involved in the new effort include the American Civil Liberties Union, Human Rights Watch and the American Library Association.