Background: Over the past year, the openness community has joined privacy and civil liberties groups in fighting the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act (CISA), legislation that undermines transparency and enhances surveillance while doing little to improve the government’s ability to combat cyber threats.
Yesterday the Senate passed the USA Freedom Act by a 67-32 vote, after rejecting several attempts to weaken it. President Obama signed the bill into law last night.
Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act expired on Sunday, May 31 at midnight, several hours after the Senate voted 77 to 17 to begin debate on the USA Freedom Act. The Project On Government Oversight (POGO) and OpenTheGovernment.org expressed support for Congress’s refusal to re-authorize an illegal surveillance program without major reforms. Both organizations strongly oppose Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s attempts to further weaken the USA Freedom Act through the amendment process. Dr.
A unanimous panel of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals yesterday ruled that the NSA’s nationwide collection of Americans’ phone records is illegal, unauthorized by section 215 of the PATRIOT Act or any other statute.
OpenTheGovernment.org joined a broad, bipartisan group of over 50 organizations in strongly opposing Senator Mitch McConnell's effort to extend the PATRIOT Act for five years without any reform of surveillance programs. As the letter states, "[i]n the absence of meaningful reform, it is unacceptable to rubber stamp reauthorization of an authority that the government has used to spy on millions of innocent Americans."
The USA Freedom Act, although it has represented Congress's best efforts at reform, has never been a complete solution to secretive mass surveillance. The government transparency provisions of USA Freedom 2015 fall far short of what is needed, but the bill would still provide Americans with more information about the scale of surveillance, and more information about how the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court interprets the law, than they have now.
Earlier today, OpenTheGovernment.org joined with a large coalition of civil society groups and trade associations, along with tech companies, in sending a letter to Congress that underscores the essential elements of any surveillance reform legislation. The letter, signed by over forty groups, emphasizes that transparency is an essential part of any meaningful surveillance reform bill--and that we oppose reauthorization of section 215 of the PATRIOT Act without real reform:
OpenTheGovernment.org joined a diverse group of 50 organizations, whistleblowers, and former Congressional staffers calling on Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi to support changes to the House of Representatives’ rules, to allow effective oversight on national security matters.
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.
OpenTheGovernment.org Supports Passage of the USA Freedom Act, Opposes Any Amendments to Weaken the Bill
Over the summer, OpenTheGovernment.org and a group of other transparency organizations wrote to Senate leadership to request that they allow a floor vote on the Senate compromise version of the USA FREEDOM Act, without any changes that weaken the text.