A group of technology companies, non-profits and privacy and human rights organizations have sent a letter to President Barack Obama, the director of national intelligence and a wide range of Congressional leaders, calling for an end to the bulk collection of phone metadata under Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act.
The letter, sent by dozens of organizations and companies, comes at a time when legislators in the United States are considering a new bill that would repeal the Patriot Act altogether. That measure likely will face stiff opposition in the House of Representatives, but less-sweeping reforms may be on the table as well. In the letter, representatives from the EFF, CloudFlare, Silent Circle, the ACLU, Mozilla, Human Rights Watch and many other organizations say that whatever form the changes take, Section 215 collection needs to end once and for all.
“There must be a clear, strong, and effective end to bulk collection practices under the USA PATRIOT Act, including under the Section 215 records authority and the Section 214 authority regarding pen registers and trap & trace devices. Any collection that does occur under those authorities should have appropriate safeguards in place to protect privacy and users’ rights,” the letter says.
The legal authority for the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of telephone metadata derives from Section 215 of the Patriot Act, and that section is due to expire on June 1. Lawmakers are considering a variety of possible reforms to the authority, but many in the security, technology and privacy communities have been advocating for the elimination of that authority altogether.
In 2014, President Obama released a plan that would change the bulk collection under Section 215 and would keep all of the records with the telecom providers. The government would then need to get orders from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court in order to access specific records. In addition to calling for an end to the Section 215 bulk collection, the organizations that sent the new letter to Obama and lawmakers said that any bill must “contain transparency and accountability mechanisms for both government and company reporting, as well as an appropriate declassification regime for Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court decisions.”
The Section 215 bulk collection was the first piece of the massive surveillance revelations from Edward Snowden that began in 2013. Though many other NSA programs have been revealed in the ensuing two years, the telephone metadata collection has remained one of more controversial ones.
“It has been nearly two years since the first news stories revealed the scope of the United States’ surveillance and bulk collection activities. Now is the time to take on meaningful legislative reforms to the nation’s surveillance programs that maintain national security while preserving privacy, transparency, and accountability. We strongly encourage both the White House and Members of Congress to support the above reforms and oppose any efforts to enact any legislation that does not address them,” the letter says.