Today, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a weakened version of the USA FREEDOM Act. Unfortunately, it omits critical government reporting requirements included in the original USA FREEDOM Act as introduced by Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wisc.) and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.).
We are deeply troubled that much-needed reforms to shine a light on surveillance activities were cut out of the weak tea the House passed today. We cannot expect this bill to protect privacy and civil liberties, while the public and Congress continue to be in the dark about the policies in practice. Without transparency, there will be no way of knowing if the bulk collection of data has ended.
The original USA FREEDOM Act required public annual reports from the government that included the total—or a good faith estimate—of the number of individuals and U.S. persons included in various domestic surveillance activities. It also required public reports every six months on the number of requests using National Security Letters. The House-passed bill was stripped of all of these reporting requirements. It leaves the American public without a reliable way to determine whether the National Security Agency (NSA) has access to their phone, e-mail and other electronic records.
Sen. Leahy expressed disappointment that the bill did not include “important reforms related to national security letters, a strong special advocate at the FISA Court, and greater transparency.” He announced that he will continue to push for the missing reforms when his Senate Judiciary Committee considers the USA FREEDOM Act this summer.
We urge the Senate to preserve the original USA FREEDOM Act’s essential protections and ensure its basic government transparency provisions are in any final surveillance reform legislation.