Support for US government surveillance transparency report grows

Josh Peterson Tech Editor
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Support for a federal government transparency report grew over the past week on Capitol Hill amid the release of new information about the National Security Agency’s phone and Internet surveillance programs.

On Friday, the Constitution Project and the Center for Democracy and Technology threw their support behind legislation introduced Thursday that would require the federal government to publicly disclose information about its surveillance data collection practices.

The bill, the Surveillance Transparency Act of 2013, is sponsored by Minnesota Democratic Sen. Al Franken, chairman of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology and the Law.

The bill would require the government “to annually report on the number of Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) orders issued under various surveillance laws,” and “the general categories of information collected,” said the Constitution Project in a statement.

The Constitution Project is a nonpartisan legal watchdog group.

In addition, the bill would require “the number of U.S. persons whose information was collected under the categories and the number of U.S. persons whose information was actually reviewed by federal agents” to be reported.

“The bill also includes less detailed reporting requirements and disclosure provisions for three surveillance authorities under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), that do not involve the bulk collection of Americans’ records,” said the organization.

Sixty-five tech companies, nonprofit organizations, trade groups and investors sent a letter to President Barack Obama on July 17 calling upon the federal government to issue a transparency report, asking for similar reforms called for in Franken’s new bill.

The bill is cosponsored by Democratic Sens. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley of Oregon, Edward Markey and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Tom Udall of New Mexico, Mark Udall of Colorado, Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, and Jon Tester of Massachusetts.

Prior to a meeting with Obama on Thursday, Democratic Sens. Ron Wyden of Oregon, Tom Udall of New Mexico, and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut introduced legislation to reform the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

The senators contend the court needs a more ideologically diverse selection of Senate confirmed judges, along with a special advocate, that would act as an adversary to executive branch.

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