New Coalition Launches Fight Against Patriot Act Section 215

A broad group of civil-rights, technology and political groups from across the spectrum has developed a new initiative to advocate for the repeal of Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act, the part that provides the authority for the bulk collection of phone metadata and other information.

The new group is calling itself and comprises more than 30 organizations, including the ACLU, the EFF, the Center for Democracy and Technology, the Freedom of the Press Foundation, the Internet Archive, Silent Circle and Human Rights Watch. The members of the coalition are using the upcoming June 1 expiration of Section 215 as the impetus for people to call members of Congress and urge them to vote against the renewal of that provision.

Section 215 of the Patriot Act gives the National Security Agency the ability to collect and store massive amounts of bulk data, including metadata associated with cell phone calls. That metadata includes things such as caller and recipient numbers, length of call and other data that privacy advocates argue can be used to build profiles of targets who have nothing to do with any terrorism investigations. A year ago President Barack Obama laid out a plan that would end the Section 215 bulk collection as it’s currently conducted and instead would keep the data at the telecom providers and require agencies to get an order from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to query a provider about a specific phone number.

All of the anger about this began to build two years ago when the first document leaked by Edward Snowden showed that Verizon was handing over vast amounts of metadata to the NSA as part of the Section 215 authority. The legality and constitutionality of this program has been a topic of heated debate since the leaks began.

“While ending phone record surveillance is just the first step to reining in surveillance abuses by the NSA, the expiration of Section 215 in just a few weeks provides a unique opportunity. The last time Patriot was reauthorized, we hadn’t seen the FISA court order authorizing the NSA to collect phone records in bulk. We didn’t yet know just how badly the Patriot Act’s provisions had been twisted by the NSA. But given what we know now, it’s important to send the message that a vote to reauthorize bulk phone records collection is a vote against the Constitution,” Nadia Kayyali, an attorney and member of the EFF’s activism team, wrote in a post announcing the coalition.

The group is asking people to call or send tweets to their members of Congress, letting them know about their concern regarding Section 215.

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