Bill to rein in US spies gathers support from companies and activists

Josh Peterson Tech Editor
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Transparency activists and groups representing U.S. tech companies announced their support for a new bill to rein in the U.S. intelligence community Tuesday.

Following former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden’s revelations in June about U.S. phone and Internet data collection programs, U.S. cloud companies became increasingly concerned about the negative impact the revelations would have on business.

On Tuesday, Wisconsin Republican Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner and Vermont Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy introduced their bill — the USA FREEDOM Act — to end the U.S. government’s bulk collection of the records of millions of Americans and create more transparency in the U.S. intelligence community.

Technology trade groups and activists immediately pledged their support for the USA FREEDOM Act — which stands for the Uniting and Strengthening America by Fulfilling Rights and Ending Eavesdropping, Dragnet Collection, and Online Monitoring Act.

Sensenbrenner is chairman of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security, and Leahy is chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

“Due to the stifling secrecy that has shrouded these programs for too long, the public and even some Congressional leaders, currently lack sufficient information to precisely define the contours and boundaries that are necessary in this area,” said Ed Black, president and CEO Computer & Communications Industry Association (CCIA).

CCIA is an international nonprofit organization that represents the computer, communications and Internet industries.

Ken Wasch, president of the Software & Information Industry Association (SIIA), emphasized in a statement that the “core of any effort” by the U.S. government “to achieve the deeply connected goals of improving economic and national security and preserving civil liberties” “must be a greater commitment to transparency and oversight.”

SIIA is a trade association that represents software and information industries.

“We believe the core of any effort must be a greater commitment to transparency and oversight,” Wasch said in support of Sensenbrenner and Leahy’s bill.

The Center for Democracy & Technology (CDT), the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Demand Progress also proclaimed their support. Both organizations have been working to end the federal government’s collection of data on millions of Americans.

Greg Nojeim, Director of CDT’s Project on Freedom, Security and Technology, in a statement to the press, said that the USA FREEDOM Act “gets it right” in its efforts to restore the balance between liberty and security.

“While some seek to codify this bulk collection, the USA FREEDOM Act is being introduced to end it and bring about other much needed reforms to intelligence surveillance,” said Nojeim.

Michelle Richardson, legislative counsel at the ACLU’s Washington legislative office, said in a statement that she believes the NSA has proven “cannot be trusted with the surveillance authorities they have been given by a secret court without the knowledge or approval of the American people.”

“The only way to stop the NSA’s collect-it-all mentality is for Congress to pass legislation that prohibits the intelligence community from engaging in the dragnet surveillance of Americans’ communications,” said Richardson, praising the USA FREEDOM Act as a “true reform bill.”

While praising Leahy and Sensenbrenner’s bill, Demand Progress’ executive director David Segal warned of an upcoming unnamed bill sponsored by California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Michigan Republican Rep. Mike Rogers, which he said “would entrench surveillance powers.”

“Feinstein and Rogers are the surveillance apparatus’s biggest acolytes in Congress — and they’re doing right by their paymasters, by broadly defending the NSA even after rampant abuse and the concomitant public outcry for reform,” Segal said.

The USA FREEDOM Act comes several days after a rally in Washington, D.C. where several thousand anti-surveillance activists protested the NSA’s surveillance programs.

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