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NSA Spying, Meet the USA FREEDOM Act

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The American government spying on Americans; spying on our allies; turning over American communications to other nations; breaking down privacy safeguards on the Internet and in our Constitution—all of these things now have our attention because of the Edward Snowden whistleblower disclosures. Clearly the American people, most Members of Congress, and even the President have been kept in the dark far too long about National Security Agency (NSA) activities that threaten some of our fundamental rights and relationships.

These disclosures have raised a host of questions, from the technical issues of NSA legal authorities and specific oversight mechanisms to the broader issues of how to balance national security with liberty.

After years of largely ignoring these issues, members of Congress have held more than 10 hearings and introduced dozens of bills in response to the revelations about NSA activities. But most legislative proposals have been piecemeal, and none of the bills have had a comprehensive approach with strong bipartisan support—until now.

Yesterday, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Representative Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI), one of the original authors of the USA PATRIOT Act, announced the introduction of a bill with several reforms to re-balance the checks on NSA spying. The USA FREEDOM Act, supported by an impressive coalition of bipartisan lawmakers (102 cosponsors and counting), combines several other legislative proposals in order to  end bulk collection of domestic records, curb secret law, increase transparency, improve oversight and accountability, and provide safeguards for civil liberties and other rights.

The Project On Government Oversight doesn’t have a position on every provision in the bill, and the bill doesn’t contain every reform we seek (whistleblower protections for the intelligence community, for example). However, we strongly support this bill as a vehicle for reform that incorporates many of the recommendations we have made since the Edward Snowden revelations. In particular, POGO strongly supports the reforms in the bill that would:

  • Establish public advocates to promote the privacy interests and civil liberties of the American people in classified Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Court proceedings.
  • Create a process for the public release of FISA Court opinions containing significant legal interpretations.
  • Allow private companies to disclose basic information about their participation in NSA surveillance programs.
  • Require the government to provide new public reporting on the scope of FISA activities.
  • Require Inspector General reports on surveillance authorities and activities.
  • Limit the types of warrantless orders, or National Security Letters (NSL), that can be sought, and specify the legal authority to seek them.
  • Allow for meaningful judicial review of any non-disclosure order issued to the recipient of an NSL.
  • Synchronize and add sunset dates for the most relevant provisions of two laws, the FISA Amendments Act and the USA PATRIOT Act, so that Congress can debate similar issues together.

To learn more about the reforms in the bill, see this summary. Click here to tell your Members of Congress to support the USA FREEDOM Act!

Image by Flickr user jonathan mcintosh.

By: Angela Canterbury
Director of Public Policy, POGO

angela canterbury Angela Canterbury is Director of Public Policy for the Project On Government Oversight.

Topics: Government Accountability

Related Content: Surveillance, Congressional Oversight, Open Government, Checks and Balances, Democracy

Authors: Angela Canterbury

Submitted by saurumon at: December 9, 2013
BOYCOTT USA ALL PRODUCTS NOT JUST TECH WAKE UP WORLD THIS PROBLEM IS HUGE It is very simple to fix this whole problem, and that problem seems to always be the USA. Everyone in the world and even the USA needs to boycott itself. They also need to know where there data is going and ensure servers that do not touch USA. This is very simple to do but does have a cost. The alternative, do nothing. If you do nothing, you may ask what is the USA doing with your data. They are using it to make money plain and simple. It is not for terrorism or any other grand adventure. It is to take the worlds money plain and simple just like playing poker and knowing your opponents hand. If a company is ignorant enough to not secure their business without the USA and NSA spying, then using them is a sure fire way of destroying your business by espionage and stealing. Microsoft has back doors to all its products. This includes getting rid of all microsoft products like windows and replacing it with Linux. People around the world should start writing for open source code to help linux work for the world. All companies should provide tech support and drivers for Linux. Cisco routers have back doors to all their products and allow the USA companies in the know to learn secrets to your business. This does not mean simply just use new encryption software. These companies built back doors and even your best encryption is not safe. Worse anyone can access your networks once the back-doors are released to the hackers. Once trust is lost it is lost forever, and these corrupt American companies do not deserve another penny. They got funding from the USA government to take your information, and what should piss you off is they have it all right now. You have to change the game of your world business today. Educate the next generation and your business partners. No companies in the USA on your servers period. Boycott Microsoft, Skype, XBOX, Verizon, Google, Cisco, Apple, Facebook, Yahoo, AOL, Level3, Paltalk and there are 50 companies total so far look them up. Follow the work of the BRICS nations (Brazil,Russia,India,China,South Africa) and Europe and start to build a wall around the USA. Even Australia, you need to switch sides and abandon the USA for good. For every dollar you refuse the greater the world becomes and the more money you keep in your pocket. This includes, don’t forget, boycotting the rest of all businesses in the USA. Make the USA hurt until it turns against itself and stops screwing with the world. Sincerely, Pissed On So Many Levels Read more at http://dottech.org/126462/indian-government-bans-use-gmail-thanks-nsa-spying/#IFPs4iwskr4gsccG.99
Submitted by speedyturtle at: November 4, 2013
It seems most people aren't too upset by being spied on. They often say "whataya have to hide?"
Submitted by Sharon Nicodemus at: November 2, 2013
The Freedom Act should be passed. Our founding fathers never intended for this Country to become an Orwellian type surveillance state.
Submitted by Makaainana at: November 2, 2013
Lets also require that the head of the CIA, the NSA and other organizations that are endowed with a "secrecy shield" to be run by civilians. Just as the military is run by the President a civilian.
Submitted by I the T at: November 2, 2013
POGO needs to re-examine it's values. Snowden is a TRAITOR not a whistleblower.
Submitted by Sleekgecko at: November 2, 2013
Does Sen. Feinstein still consider Mr. Snowden to be a "traitor"? What an incompetent fool she is. She couldn't oversight the back door of a barnyard.
Submitted by prophet4real at: November 2, 2013
Ask DOJ about Robles/Vaughn v. Scripps/Howard News Service & Verizon Wireless spying complaint. (2000-2002)Agent Dorsett handled the case for Ashcroft.
Submitted by Allyce at: November 2, 2013
Nowhere does this bill actually STOP the bulk collection of data. It merely requires a warrant to search through the data still being collected. And, as we have seen recently, IG positions are simply left unfilled, whenever a sitting President finds the position undesirable. Likewise, it does not even address recent news that NSA has illegally tapped all data going into major services Yahoo and Google. In short, this bill does NOT stop anything regarding bulk collections being done in the first place. It merely increases oversight opportunities, leaving those same contractors and the billions spent on their operations in place, leaving the agency in place and continuing to collect bulk data, and offers no opportunity for criminal prosecution of those who engage in it, already circumventing our civil rights by doing so. We don't want more more oversight of a thing which should never have been done in the first place. END it! Then we'll have something worth supporting. This is not a situation where moderation should prevail, I don't care HOW many sponsors it gets.
Submitted by Pepper at: November 2, 2013
I understand the need for reform, but a greater threat to our Democracy is the Tea Party who is making it harder for minorities and women to vote. Also we have Supreme Court Justice Scalia who has made a racial statement about Black entitlements. We have Senator Cruz and his father who think only Christians should rule America and told our President to go back to Kenya. We have a Congress who has disrupted our government to the point it can't function. Now the Republicans are refusing to allow the President to appoint justices to vacancies. We have wealthy people like the Koch Brothers who want to buy our freedom. This is scary.

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