Monday, February 10, 2014

Just say NO to continued government surveillance!

Call/email Congress. Ask legislators to oppose the FISA Improvements Act. Look here at the ACLU comments, here at the EFF comments on "fake fix bill", another EFF note on 54 civil liberties and public interest organizations opposing this bill and here for an analysis in the British paper The Guardian (Permanent loophole for "backdoor search provision," and the Cato Institute, which called it the NSA Fig Leaf.

Ask your congresspeople to support the USA Freedom Act, and enact protections for non-Americans. Read the ACLU comments supporting this alternative bill. The EFF also supports this bill, which was co-sponsored by Representative Sensenbrenner (R, Wis) and Senator Leahy (D, Ver).

There are limits to what the USA Freedom Act accomplishes, according to the EFF website:

The bill only addresses a small portion of the problems created by NSA spying and overreaching government secrecy. It does not touch problems like NSA programs to sabotage encryption standards, it does not effectively tackle the issue of collecting information on people outside of the United States, and it doesn't address the authority that the government is supposedly using to tap the data links between service provider data centers, such as those owned by Google and Yahoo.

The bill also does not address a key issue that the government uses to inhibit lawsuits contesting the spying: excessive secrecy. For instance, it won't deal with the major over-classification issues or the state secrets privilege, the latter of which is used aggressively to prevent litigation from getting to a court decision on whether the spying is unconstitutional. The bill also leaves out a clause appearing in Sen. Ron Wyden's bill [113 S. 1551 Intelligence Oversight and Surveillance Reform Act] and, which provides guidelines to obtain standing in legal cases against the spying.

Lastly, it does not hold public officials accountable for their role in allowing this spying to take place and hiding it from public and Congressional oversight, and it does not create a Congressional committee that could independently investigate the surveillance programs and give the country a full accounting. Remember we are still just learning the full depth of the programs on a piecemeal basis.

So while we are happy to support the USA FREEDOM Act, we also acknowledge that there is still much to do to dial back the NSA. This can happen through ongoing improvements to the USA FREEDOM Act as well as through additional bills.
The EFF does list 7 steps the USA Freedom Act uses to improve privacy rights:
1. It would likely stop the NSA's call records program;
2. The bill modifies Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act (EFF thinks one effect of the amendment is good - it requires the NSA to get a more narrowly tailored order from the FISA court before searching its enormous databases of call data for information on U.S. citizens. However, EFF is concerned that the amendment codifies the practices and existence of the collection and databases rather than abolishing them.
3. The bill creates a special advocate before the FISA court.
4. "Significant decisions" by the FISA court must be disclosed by the Attorney General. This is hugely important, though the FISA court itself has increased the publication of some of its decisions in recent days, there is neither any confidence that it might continue nor anything to show the public that we have had publication of either the most significant decisions or any proportion of significant decisions.
5. It increases protections designed to limit the potential harm from the use of National Security Letters (NSLs, the secret orders from the FBI that include a gag order preventing recipients from ever announcing they got one). Nevertheless, the law fails to address the central problem with NSLs: NSLs would still be unconstitutional.
6. Increases (a tiny bit) the ability of the companies that are ordered to cooperate with government agencies to be more transparent to users about their cooperation. There would still be gag orders limiting the amount of information that could be shared, but reports could be somewhat more detailed.
7. It grants subpoena powers for the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB). PCLOB is supposed to provide oversight and recommendations to the executive branch when it comes to our civil liberties, but currently has no subpoena powers.

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