This post, written by Activism Director Rainey Reitman, was originally published by the Electronic Frontier Foundation on Dec. 18.
Fifty-four civil liberties and public interest groups sent a letter to Congressional leadership today opposing S. 1631, the FISA Improvements Act. The bill, promoted by Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), seeks to legalize and extend National Security Agency mass surveillance programs, including the classified phone records surveillance program confirmed by documents released by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden this summer.
On Monday, a Federal judge found the phone records program that Feinstein’s bill supports was likely unConstitutional. In a sharply worded opinion, Judge Richard Leon explained, “I cannot imagine a more ‘indiscriminate’ and ‘arbitrary invasion’ than this systematic and high-tech collection and retention of personal data on virtually every single citizen for purposes of querying it and analyzing it without judicial approval.”
Feinstein has been promoting the bill as a way to rein in NSA overreach, but legal experts have criticized the bill for attempting to sanction the worst of the surveillance abuses. The letter published today calls on members of Congress to reject the FISA Improvements Act and champion reform that would end mass surveillance by the NSA.
Signers included the American Civil Liberties Union, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Greenpeace USA, PEN American Center, Progressive Change Campaign Committee, TechFreedom and others.
The coalition letter highlighted the free speech concerns with continued bulk data collection by the NSA, noting: “The NSA mass surveillance programs already sweep up data about millions of people daily. This shadow of surveillance chills freedom of speech, undermines confidence in US Internet companies, and runs afoul of the Constitution.”
The public at large increasingly opposes dragnet government surveillance. An Associated Press/NORC poll released in September 2013 showed strong opposition to bulk data collection: Close to 60 percent of respondents opposed Internet and telephone record surveillance; 62 percent of respondents opposed collection of the contents of Americans’ emails without warrants.
If the FISA Improvements Act were to pass, the NSA would continue its collection of the telephone records of millions of Americans and could restart the bulk collection of Internet communication records — a program the government attempted under dubious legal grounds but abandoned because it wasn’t effective.
The FISA Improvements Act has already passed out of the Senate Intelligence Committee and could be taken up for a Senate vote. Last week, the Barack Obama Administration testified in support of the bill, and Feinstein has confirmed that she intends to work with the House on pushing her bill in January.
Read the opposition letter in full below. Help defeat this bill by emailing your member of Congress today.
December 18, 2013,
Dear Members of Congress,
As civil liberties groups and other organizations advancing the public interest, we write this letter today to strongly urge you to oppose S. 1631, the FISA Improvements Act. The FISA Improvements Act does not offer real reform to stop the NSA’s mass collection of our communications and communications records. Instead, S. 1631 seeks to entrench some of the worst forms of NSA surveillance into US law and to extend the NSA surveillance programs in unprecedented ways.
If the FISA Improvements Act were to pass, the NSA would continue to collect telephone records of hundreds of millions of Americans not suspected of any crime. This is a violation of Americans’ privacy and Constitutional rights. Multiple polls, including a September 2013 Associated Press poll, consistently show a strong majority of the American people opposing such programs.
Furthermore, the bill seeks to permit the NSA to restart the bulk collection of Internet communication records—an extremely invasive, secret program the government attempted under dubious legal ground but abandoned because it wasn’t effective.
The NSA mass surveillance programs already sweep up data about millions of people daily. This shadow of surveillance chills freedom of speech, undermines confidence in US Internet companies, and runs afoul of the Constitution.
Please champion real reform to end these programs and oppose S. 1631, which would codify and expand them.
Advocacy for Principled Action in Government
AIDS Policy Project
American Civil Liberties Union
American Library Association
Arab American Institute
Bill of Rights Defense Committee
Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law School
Campaign for Liberty
Center for Democracy and Technology
Center for Rights
Charity & Security Network
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW)
The Constitution Project
Council on American-Islamic Relations
Cyber Privacy Project
Defending Dissent Foundation
Electronic Frontier Foundation
F2C: Freedom to Connect
Fight for the Future
Free Press Action Fund
Free Software Foundation
Freedom of the Press Foundation
Government Accountability Project
Human Rights Watch
InFo – The Foundation for Innovation and Internet Freedom
Media Mobilizing Project
Montgomery County Civil Rights Coalition
National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers
National Coalition Against Censorship
New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute
Participatory Politics Foundation
PEN American Center
Privacy Rights Clearinghouse
Progressive Change Campaign Committee
Project On Government Oversight
The Rutherford Institute
cc: Members of the House and Senate Judiciary and Intelligence Committees