Senators pressure White House to get behind surveillance reform

In a letter to the president, US Sens. Al Franken and Dean Heller call for stronger transparency in the USA Freedom Act.

US Sen. Al Franken
US Sen. Al Franken speaks during a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Alex Wong/Getty Images

Two senators are calling on the White House to support stronger transparency measures in legislation to reform government surveillance programs.

US Sens. Al Franken (D-Minn.) and Dean Heller (R-Nev.) on Tuesday sent a letter to the White House asking President Obama to support additional transparency measures in the USA Freedom Act.

"We support your decision to end bulk collection of Americans' phone call records, along with prohibiting bulk collection under several other authorities," Franken and Heller wrote in the letter. "We fear that unless stronger transparency provisions are included in the USA Freedom Act, the American public will have no way to know if the government is following through on that decision...When foreign intelligence powers are used to collect the information of American citizens, Americans deserve to know it."

The Freedom Act was designed to curb powers granted to the National Security Agency under the Patriot Act -- including the NSA's bulk collection of American's phone records. The House version of the bill passed on May 22, but many technology companies and privacy advocates pulled their support of the bill after several provisions were watered down. A coalition of major technology companies -- including Apple, Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo, LinkedIn, AOL, and Dropbox -- urged the Senate earlier this month to muster up a stronger version of the USA Freedom Act.

In their letter, Franken and Heller asked the president to "publicly and formally" support improvements to the Freedom Act that would require the government to release annual estimates of how many Americans had their information collected and reviewed under each surveillance law; allow companies to provide detailed information about government data requests in a timely manner; and eliminate language that allows disclosures only in terms of "targets" instead of total individuals affected.

While the reform bill works its way through the Senate, the NSA's surveillance programs continue to operate. On June 27, the Department of Justice disclosed that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court renewed an order allowing the NSA to continue its bulk collection of Americans' phone metadata. That court order, which must be renewed every 90 days, expires on September 12.

 

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