ACLU won’t support new NSA bill

ACLU won’t support new NSA bill

The Americans Civil Liberties Union on Tuesday quickly pulled support from a congressional bill to reform the National Security Agency. 

The group said the bill, which also reauthorizes portions of the Patriot Act until 2019, does not go far enough and only makes incremental changes. 

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“Congress should let Section 215 sunset as it’s scheduled to, and then it should turn to reforming the other surveillance authorities that have been used to justify bulk collection,” said Jameel Jaffer, the group’s deputy legal director. 

The civil liberties group has become increasingly bullish on surveillance reform. Its executive director last week penned an op-ed arguing that letting the provisions expire would be a first step “to ensure that this unlawful and ineffective surveillance finally ends.”

The bill, which will be marked up in the House Thursday, would reauthorize several expiring provisions of the Patriot Act, including one that provides the legal underpinning for the NSA's phone record collection program. 

The bill would end the current bulk collection program and require the government to obtain records from private phone companies using a court order. 

The ACLU also specifically cited concern with a provision that would increase the maximum prison sentence to 20 years for people providing material support or resources to terror organizations. The group called the provision “a significant step backwards.”

The group clarified that it is not actively opposing the bill but it will not support it either.

Other advocacy groups were divided on the issue. 

Left-leaning groups like Credo and Demand Progress were direct about their opposition. In a statement Credo and Demand Progress urged “Congress to oppose this legislation.” The statement continued: “A vote for a bill that does not end mass surveillance is a vote in support of mass surveillance. The way to end mass surveillance is to end mass surveillance. Everything else is window dressing.”

The group Access welcomed the introduction of the bill but said it is still “determining whether to support this bill.”

The Computer and Communications Industry Association said it “looks forward to working with Congress to further strengthen and pass this legislation." 

“While the bill is neither a perfect nor complete reform of all the NSA’s mass surveillance authorities, it significantly narrows the ability of the NSA to collect call records and offers greater transparency, which is essential for citizens in a free society,” the group’s president Ed Black said. 

- Updated at 3:30 p.m.