Surveillance Reform Updates and New Open Gov Legislation – May 26, 2015 Newsletter

– Brief Updates on Coalition Partners & Others (more)
– Partners Push for Surveillance Reform (more)
– Financial Transparency Act of 2015 Introduced (more)
– Explore the Model National Action Plan (more)


News from Coalition Partners & Others

Syracuse University Spotlights TRAC

Since 1989, the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse has harnessed changing technology, data, and the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to hold the government accountable. TRAC’s vast resources also enable others to do the same. Syracuse University highlights its resident government watchdog in its latest magazine, diving into TRAC’s history and interviewing TRAC co-founders Sue Long and David Burnham. Read the full piece here.

I. Partners Push for Surveillance Reform

On May 13, 2015, the House passed the USA Freedom Act by a margin of 338 to 88. With Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act set to expire on May 31, however, the Senate has not acted on any surveillance-related legislation. A cloture vote to begin debate on the USA Freedom Act, which required 60 votes for passage, failed 57-42 in the face of opposition from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. But a vote to begin debate on McConnell’s proposal for a two-week extension of the expiring PATRIOT Act provisions failed by a larger margin, 45-54. After Senators Rand Paul, Ron Wyden, and Martin Heinrich objected to seven day, four day, and two extensions of the expiring PATRIOT Act provisions, the Senate adjourned—meaning that a short sunset of Section 215 is all but guaranteed, but longer term prospects for reform remain uncertain.

A sampling of our partners’ responses is below.

The American Library Association issued a statement responding to the USA Freedom Act, noting that the bill is “a long way from perfect,” but can still “make important changes in the USA PATRIOT Act critical to making progress on what will be a long road to restoring library users’ and all Americans’ civil liberties.”

The Bill of Rights Defense Committee and Defending Dissent Foundation launched an online sign-on letter urging Congress to let Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act expire.

The Center for Democracy and Technology urged Congress to pass reforms that would “end domestic bulk collection under the PATRIOT Act and strengthen surveillance transparency.”

The Electronic Frontier Foundation asked Congress to reject Section 215 reauthorization and to address surveillance abuses more broadly. EFF also urged the government to tackle “the secretive and one-sided FISA Court, and the problems of secrecy and over-classification that have created the environment that allowed such spying overreach to flourish.”

II. Financial Transparency Act of 2015 Introduced

Congress took another step forward on open data issues last week with the introduction of the Financial Transparency Act of 2015 (HR 2477). The bill is a bipartisan effort that would apply modern data standards to financial regulatory information. The Sunlight Foundation notes that the bill would make financial regulatory agencies “more transparent and more functional for both internal and external stakeholders while reducing reliance on outdated paper disclosures.” For a complete overview of the legislation, see the Data Transparency Coalition’s website.

III. Explore the Model National Action Plan

Several groups and individuals have contributed ideas for the administration’s third National Action Plan for Open Government to our Model Plan site. More commitments are rolling in, but be sure to check out some highlights from the plan so far:

Open Contracting Reforms. This set of commitments includes recommendations that the government publicly post documents like contractor past performance reviews and the Department of Defense Revolving Door Database.

Ethics Disclosure. These commitments would strengthen lobbying disclosure and make ethics data more usable, interoperable, and accessible.

Foreign Aid Transparency. For this commitment, agencies administering foreign assistance would improve the quality of data they produce, collect, and publish by 2018.

Freedom of Information Act Reform. This commitment recommends the Obama administration support meaningful FOIA reform in Congress.