ADC Supports USA FREEDOM Act as a Step Towards NSA Surveillance Reform


American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee

ADC Supports USA FREEDOM Act as a Step Towards
NSA Surveillance Reform

Washington, DC | | August 19th, 2014 – The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) supports the passage of the USA FREEDOM Act (S. 2685), which Senator Leahy recently introduced before the August recess. The purpose of the USA FREEDOM Act is to end the National Surveillance Agency’s bulk collection of phone records and provide more transparency to the NSA. The bill is a reasonable first step in the long term fight to protect our privacy rights, yet we must continue to work towards comprehensive surveillance reform. 

The USA FREEDOM Act would ammend the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 (FISA) and provide key protections that would be an improvement over current law. The bill limits the scope of data collection to a “specific selection term” for which there is a “reasonable, articulable suspicion” that the term is associated with international terrorism.  The bill requires the FISA court to approve selection term requests in advance of data collection. Additionally, the bill also creates a panel of advocates to argue for civil liberties in the FISA court. Further, the bill requires the executive branch to be more transparent by producing more detailed reporting on surveillance. 

While the USA FREEDOM Act claims to unite and strengthen America by fulfilling our rights, ADC has several concerns about the bill not going far enough to protect them. The intent of the bill is good, however the language in the bill is still vague enough to allow for various interpretations and misuse by the NSA. For instance, the bill prohibits the executive from collecting bulk phone records; however, it allows the government to obtain records of anyone who is in contact with “suspected” terrorists. The lack of a clear bright-line restriction on data collection could still allow the executive branch to significant leeway to interpret the terms of the legislation.

Additionally, the bill is particularly weak with regard to reforming privacy protections for international communications. The bill fails to reform Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act, which allows NSA to collect our international communications without a warrant. Further, the bill allows the FBI to retain the National Security Letter power to get permanent gag orders under the Patriot Act, while also exempting them from Section 702 reporting. The bill also fails to reform the overseas collection of communications under Executive Order 12333, which doesn’t require FISA Court approval. 

Despite these concerns, ADC urges Congress to pass the USA FREEDOM Act when they return from the August recess, with a commitment towards further comprehensive surveillance reform in the future. The Senate Bill is an improvement and a great step in protecting the privacy and civil rights of Americans.  

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