Surveillance reform on hold, and the government shutdown is the excuse

Josh Peterson Tech Editor
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After months of gaining steam, the federal government shutdown is forcing a delay on surveillance reform efforts.

Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, Facebook, and LinkedIn asked the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) to delay the proceedings over “their lawsuits against the U.S. government over surveillance transparency,” The Hill reports.

The companies were scheduled to respond by Oct. 21 to a recent DOJ motion urging the FISC to reject their pleas to be able to publish the number of user data requests they receive from the nation’s intelligence agencies.

In a joint motion to the FISC filed on Monday, however, the companies and the DOJ said that they are incapable of working on the case due to the federal government shutdown.

“Absent an appropriation, Department of Justice attorneys and employees are prohibited from continuing to work, even on a voluntary basis, except in very limited circumstances, including ’emergencies involving the safety of human life or the protection of property,'” the motion states.

The tech companies and the DOJ requested that the FISC delay the proceedings until after Congress “has restored appropriations to the Department and these access-related issues have been resolved.”

On Sunday, Politico reported that the Obama administration’s Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies — ordered to review the federal government’s surveillance technologies —- was also frozen due to its staff being furloughed by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

Panel member Michael Morell, former interim director of the Central Intelligence Agency, refused to take part in a meeting on Tuesday on the grounds that he did not think it fair that they work while 72 percent of the intelligence agencies’ civilian employees, according to California Democratic Sen. Feinstein’s estimates, had been furloughed.

The Review Group is unpaid, and it is possible for members to converse via email, but they would not be reimbursed for travel expenses to Washington since those funds are now frozen.

The group was mandated by Obama in August to present him with a progress report within 60-days of the start of its work. A final report was expected from the group by Dec. 15.

“It’s unclear whether those deadlines will need to be adjusted because of the funding hiatus,” wrote Politico.

The Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, another panel working on surveillance reform, “also saw its work interrupted last week because of the shutdown,” said the publication.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel ordered a majority of the DoD’s civilian employees on Sunday to return to work over the next week.

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