Bulk Collection Foes Pan USA Freedom Act

More than three dozen groups opposing bulk data collection have told the Senate it needs to strengthen the USA Freedom Act that passed the House last month.

They argue that the House compromise version of the bill to end bulk collection of data by the NSA and other government agencies was too "watered down" and could still allow for far too much collection of data. Those groups, who definitely support ending bulk collection, were unable to support the compromise bill.

In a letter to Senate leaders this week, the groups, which included New America's Open Technology Institute (OTI), Free Press and the ACLU, said that the Senate version needs to be improved, first and foremost by effectively banning bulk collection.

They argue that it could still allow for what amounts to data dragnets. "The bill’s overbroad and open-ended definition of 'specific selection term' could abusively be read to authorize collection of the records of thousands or millions of innocent Americans," they argue. "For example, it could conceivably allow the use of a selection term as broad as a zip code, all of the gmail.com Internet domain, or all of Verizon’s premises." Unless the definition is narrowed, they say, they can't support the bill.

The Administration has signaled to the Hill that it would be willing to work on a new definition, but thinks the current one is acceptable.

The groups also want stronger provisions authorizing service providers to publish basic information about the national security requests they receive, and requiring the government to be similarly transparent. They also warn against adding requirements for ISPs to create any new records for the government to access, or store records any longer than they would in the ordinary course of business.

"We will have to oppose USA FREEDOM if the Senate fails to substantially strengthen the bill to better protect our rights against NSA overreach,” said OTI policy director Kevin Bankston. “We hope that this unified message will bolster the resolve of our allies in the Senate and improve the chances of Congress quickly passing a strong bill that will effectively rein in the NSA’s bulk collection of Americans’ private data.”

Over in the House, supporters of stronger prohibitions on data collection are trying amend a must-pass defense appropriations bill with surveillance reforms that would defund warrantless searches or efforts to get companies to insert "security vulnerabilities" into their networks to make surveillance easier.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.