NSA Whistleblowers, Civil Liberties Groups Urge Congress to Oppose USA Freedom Act

Aletter has been sent to members of Congress by a long list of privacy, civil liberties, and human rights organizations asking the legislators to oppose the proposed USA Freedom Act, which would extend Section 215.

As the expiration date for the controversial Section 215 of the Patriot Act draws near, the voices opposing a renewal of the surveillance powers the measure grants the NSA are growing louder. The latest entry is a letter sent to members of Congress by a long list of privacy, civil liberties, and human rights organizations asking the legislators to oppose the proposed USA Freedom Act, which would extend Section 215.

That portion of the Patriot Act is what gives the NSA the power to collect bulk telephone records from telecoms. The use of that provision by the agency was the first major revelation to come from the documents that Edward Snowden stole from the NSA. Under the Section 215 program, the agency can collect the phone records and then query them later as part of terror investigations.

Many organizations, technology companies and individuals have come out in opposition to the reauthorization of Section 215, and the letter sent Wednesday adds a number of interesting names to that list. Most notably, previous NSA whistleblowers Thomas Drake and William Binney signed the letter.

“In the two years since Edward Snowden began disclosing proof of mass, warrantless surveillance of Americans and the rest of the world, surveillance proponents have had ample opportunity to provide proof of its efficacy, legality, and its necessity. They have failed to do so on every front. Instead, they have systematically misled both the public and Congress,” the letter says.

Section 215 is due to expire on June 1 unless it is renewed or reauthorized in some way. Last year President Barack Obama proposed a plan to end the bulk surveillance done under Section 215, which would stop the NSA from collecting the phone records and have them remain at the telecoms instead. The letter sent Wednesday to Congress calling for an end to Section 215 also is signed by CREDO Mobile, the Sunlight Foundation, and many other organizations.

“The sacrifices made by the USA FREEDOM Act of 2015 are unacceptable. The modest changes within this bill, in turn, fail to reform mass surveillance, of Americans and others, conducted under Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 and Executive Order 12333. Given intelligence agencies’ eagerness to subvert any attempts by Congress to rein in massive surveillance programs by changing the legal authorities under which they operate, the modest, proposed changes are no reform at all,” the letter says.

“Section 215 was designed to sunset, and it is well past time that it did so. A vote for USA FREEDOM Act does too little to reform surveillance, and it does so at too great an expense. A vote against it, and against any law that reauthorizes Section 215, is the best step toward ending mass surveillance of Americans. We urge you to pursue such a path in defense of American civil liberties.”

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