OpenTheGovernment.org’s Statement on the Senate’s Failure to Advance USA Freedom Act

OpenTheGovernment.org is disappointed at the Senate’s failure to advance the compromise version of the USA Freedom Act (S. 2685) last night. The bill contained important advances for transparency about surveillance, though they were only a first step towards the disclosures that are necessary to restore democratic accountability. We thank the 58 Senators who supported the bill, and particularly thank Chairman Leahy and his staff for their leadership, hard work, and commitment on this issue.

Fortunately, this debate cannot be postponed forever:

–The Second Circuit will soon rule on the legality of the section 215 phone records program. If it strikes the program down, it will repudiate not only the secret interpretation of the PATRIOT Act that the NSA relied on for its call records program, but the adequacy of secret courts and  secret law more generally.

–Several portions of the PATRIOT Act will expire next year unless Congress acts. Based on last night’s vote and the House of Representatives' 293-123 vote in June to close the section 702 “back door” warrantless search loophole, we are confident that opponents of mass surveillance will not allow reauthorization without major reforms.

–Given the White House’s and intelligence community’s stated support for the USA Freedom Act, and their desire for PATRIOT Act renewal, they should not wait for Congress. Instead, President Obama should avoid “brinkmanship and uncertainty”and ensure an informed public debate by immediately implementing the bill’s transparency requirements. The White House should also order meaningful disclosures about the number of Americans’ whose information is “incidentally collected” under section 702 of the FISA Amendment Acts and Executive Order 12333.

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