In an open letter to the Senate this week Silicon Valley’s biggest companies urged the upper chamber to pass the USA Freedom Act — the most-sweeping set of reforms to the National Security Agency yet — when the bill comes to the floor later this week.
The letter, sent by Reform Government Surveillance (a coalition of tech giants including Apple, Google, Facebook, Yahoo Microsoft and more) calls on lawmakers to support the bill, which they said ensures national security while protecting individuals’ privacy rights. (RELATED: Senate Could Vote On NSA Reform By Next Week)
“The legislation prevents the bulk collection of Internet metadata under various authorities,” the companies wrote. “The bill also allows for transparency about government demands for user information from technology companies, and assures that the appropriate oversight and accountability mechanisms are in place.” (RELATED: Senate Unveils New NSA Reform Bill, Silicon Valley, Privacy Advocates Praise)
Though the coalition has endorsed the bill since its inception, companies maintained their stance that the legislation doesn’t go far enough, and said they will continue to “advance essential reforms” including, “preventing government access to data without proper legal process; assuring that providers are not required to locate infrastructure within a country’s border; promoting the free flow of data across borders; and avoiding conflicts among nations through robust, principled, and transparent frameworks that govern lawful requests for data across jurisdictions.”
Chief among privacy advocates and companies’ concerns is the bill’s failure to address surveillance authority granted to the government under Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which allows NSA to collect the electronic communications of non-citizens outside the U.S., but often sweeps up and stores Americans’ communications in the process.
Despite the drawbacks cited by critics, the bill has managed to maintain more support than its House counterpart, which left several major elements on the cutting room floor in the final moments before passage, and set down criteria making is easier for the government to engage in certain types of domestic surveillance. (RELATED: NSA Reform Bill Could Allow The Agency To Spy On More Phone Calls)
The Senate bill is expected to get a preliminary vote to proceed by Tuesday afternoon with the possibility of a full floor vote to follow. Lawmakers — especially Republicans on the Senate Intelligence Committee — are still divided on support for the bill, citing concerns over its possibility to hinder crucial surveillance powers necessary to battle ongoing threats from terrorist groups including ISIS. (RELATED: Senators Claim passing NSA Reform Could Help ISIS)
That leaves open the possibility of last minute changes via proposed amendments to the Senate bill as well, which has no guarantee of passage in its current form. However, failure to pass the bill could also mean the end even more surveillance authority granted under the USA PATRIOT Act, which expires next June. (RELATED: Lawmakers Push To Pass NSA Bill Before Patriot Act Expires)