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USA Freedom Act, So-Called Reform Bill, Fails to Stop Mass Surveillance

a Statement By Demand Progress and Credo Mobile

Al-Jazeerah, CCUN, May 5, 2015

Demand Progress and CREDO Mobile blast USA Freedom Act

So-called “reform” bill fails to stop mass surveillance and must be opposed
Press reports indicate that, under pressure from the secretive intelligence agencies, legislation is being introduced today that fails to terminate mass surveillance programs, and instead reauthorizes section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act.
We urge Congress to oppose this legislation, the USA Freedom Act, because it does not end mass surveillance programs, including ones operating under the FISA Amendments Act and Executive Order 12333. It also fails to secure other essential reforms, including real accountability for the NSA, addressing secret law, and strengthening meaningful oversight by Congress. The bill will only be weakened as it goes through the legislative process and will become a parody of its name.
A vote for a bill that does not end mass surveillance is a vote in support of mass surveillance. The way to end mass surveillance is to end mass surveillance. Everything else is window dressing.
Rather than reauthorizing section 215, Congress should let this dangerous provision expire and pass much-needed reforms, including ending mass surveillance under section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act, Executive Order 12333 and other authorities, and enhancing Congressional oversight of secret intelligence agencies.
CREDO and Demand Progress would support legislation enshrining the reforms demanded in this just-released letter, signed by 60 organizations, businesses, and prominent national security whistleblowers.
Furthermore, the organizations support likely efforts to amend the legislation to ban warrantless wiretapping of U.S. persons.
"It's like rearranging the chairs on the deck of the Titanic," said Becky Bond, Vice President of CREDO Mobile. "As a telecom that can be compelled to participate in unconstitutional government surveillance, we can tell you that the latest version of the USA FREEDOM Act is just a diversion to take the heat off our out-of-control surveillance state. That's why CREDO Mobile opposes this proposal to reauthorize section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act."
“This bill purports to ban certain acts under narrow authorities — but it doesn’t ban those behaviors outright.  Nor does it increase meaningful oversight of the NSA. If there’s one thing we know about the NSA, it’s that it will stretch the law to its limits,” said David Segal, Executive Director of Demand Progress. “If this bill passes, the NSA will continue unaddressed surveillance programs and will secretly torture the English language to devise novel justifications for spying on Americans — we won’t even know the details until a new whistleblower comes forward a decade or two from now.

Demand Progress - Letter to Congress: End Mass Surveillance

Letter to Congress: End Mass Surveillance

A bipartisan coalition of 60 advocacy groups, whistleblowers, and startups and web companies is calling on Congress to end mass surveillance, strengthen oversight of national security, reinforce whistleblower protections, and bring “secret law” into the sunshine. 

Read the full text of the letter after the jump.

Dear Chairman Goodlatte, Ranking Member Conyers, Chairman Grassley, and Ranking Member Leahy: 

We urge you to end mass surveillance of Americans. Among us are civil liberties organizations from across the political spectrum that speak for millions of people, businesses, whistleblowers, and experts. The impending expiration of three USA PATRIOT Act provisions on June 1 is a golden opportunity to end mass surveillance and enact additional reforms. 

Current surveillance practices are virtually limitless. They are unnecessary, counterproductive, and costly. They undermine our economy and the public’s trust in government. And they undercut the proper functioning of government. 

Meaningful surveillance reform entails congressional repeal of laws and protocols the Executive secretly interprets to permit current mass surveillance practices. Additionally, it requires Congress to appreciably increase transparency, oversight, and accountability of intelligence agencies, especially those that have acted unconstitutionally. 

A majority of the House of Representatives already has voted against mass surveillance. The Massie-Lofgren amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act [i] garnered 293 votes in support of defunding “backdoor searches.” Unfortunately, that amendment was not included in the “CRomnibus” [ii] despite overwhelming support. We urge you to act once again to vindicate our fundamental liberties. 

End the NSA’s bulk collection of telephone information under the USA PATRIOT Act. 

Mass surveillance conducted under Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act is antithetical to Americans’ exercise of their civil liberties. Section 215 has been interpreted by the Executive brach as providing for the collection of virtually unlimited personal information, from gun records [iii] and financial records [iv] to our physical locations [v] and with whom we talk. All the worse, this intrusive collection is not only unconstitutional; it is unnecessary. The President’s Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board concluded [vi] that not a single instance exists “involving a threat to the United States in which the telephone records program made a concrete difference in the outcome of a counterterrorism investigation.” Others have reached similar conclusions. [vii] Even the NSA considered ending the program because the “the costs outweighed the meager counterterrorism benefits.” [viii] Additional provisions that may be interpreted to allow bulk collection—whether under Section 214, via National Security Letters, or elsewhere—must also be addressed. 

End the FISA Amendments Act and Executive Order 12333 mass surveillance programs. 

Congress must end mass surveillance programs purportedly authorized under the FISA Amendments Act and Executive Order 12333. These programs are incredibly broad. For example, they include the acquisition of vast amounts of information sent privately over the Internet (e.g., “upstream collection” under Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act of 2008). [ix] They also include any information or communication, by foreigners and Americans, that is ever transmitted outside the physical boundaries of the United States (e.g., as authorized by Executive Order 12333). [x] Section 702 results in the unnecessary collection of innocent Americans’ domestic communications, [xi] and EO 12333 raises troubling concerns about the scope of “authorized” collections. 

Restore accountability for bad actors in the Intelligence Community.

Accountability starts with truth. Members of Congress, both on the left and the right, must have access to documents necessary to know the full story. [xii] They must be able to trust those they oversee. When they are misled, as occurred in statements by Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and CIA Director John Brennan, there must be consequences. [xiii] In addition, the Intelligence committees and members of Congress must have the staff, resources, clearance and cooperation necessary to provide vigorous oversight. [xiv] A special committee should investigate and publicly report on Intelligence Community transgressions since 9/11. 

Mass surveillance is counterproductive. 

The evidence shows mass surveillance costs outweigh any tangible benefits. Furthermore, the misdirection of resources undermines support for the analysts who must connect the dots. [xv]

Mass surveillance harms our economy. 

Mass surveillance will cost the digital economy up to $180 billion in lost revenue by 2016. [xvi] Law enforcement efforts to subvert the integrity of technology—in particular by attacking privacy and security mechanisms built into technology [xvii]—threaten the profitability of American manufacturers, entrepreneurs, and software companies. Already, 30% of all American adults report changing their online behavior in response to surveillance fears. [xviii]

Americans want mass surveillance to stop. 

Americans oppose domestic mass surveillance. 57% of American adults deem it unacceptable for government to monitor communications of U.S. citizens, according to a 2015 Pew survey. [xix] 61% of Americans are losing confidence that surveillance efforts serve the public interest. 

Mass surveillance is a red herring for effective anti-terrorism policies. 

America can lead the world in civil liberties. But to do that, we must: 

Ensure a probable cause-based warrant requirement for acquiring and searching the communications of U.S. persons;  End bulk and “bulky” (i.e., broadly defined, e.g. by location) information collection;  Inform the public about the scope of surveillance by requiring each intelligence collection agency—and allowing companies—to release granular information about collections;  Prohibit the government from weakening security and privacy technology;  Provide pathways for and protect whistleblowers who report problems;  Slim down the role of the FISC, which has expanded from its original mandate; Publish “secret law,” including documents that interpret the law on matters of national security, except to the extent it contains facts that risk the viability of investigations; Require independent audits of intelligence agencies’ compliance with the law;  Strengthen and empower Congressional oversight;  Legislatively address and limit the state secrets privilege; and  Conduct a full accounting of post-9/11 intelligence community activities with substantial public reporting. 

For more information, please contact Josh Withrow, legislative affairs manager at FreedomWorks at 202.783.3870 or; Daniel Schuman, policy director at Demand Progress at 202.577.6100 or; or Sascha Meinrath, director of X-Lab, at 

Sincerely yours,

American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), Amicus, Appar,  Arab American Institute, Augur, Automattic, Badger Maps, Inc., Bill Binney, Bill of Rights Defense Committee, Boing Boing, Constitutional Alliance, Contextly, CREDO, Dan Ellsberg, Data Foundry, Defending Dissent Foundation, Demand Progress, Diane Roark,, DuckDuckGo, Earbits, Inc., Ed Loomis, Fight for the Future, Foundry Group, Freedom of the Press Foundation, FreedomWorks, Friends Committee on National Legislation, GitHub, Inc., Golden Frog, Government Accountability Project, Grid, InXile, J. Kirk Weibe, John Tate, President, Campaign for Liberty, Law Office of Elaine Mittleman, LawGives, Liberty Coalition, Linknovate, Media Alliance, National Security Counselors,, PadMapper, Participatory Politics Foundation, Project On Government Oversight (POGO), R Street Institute, Recrout, Restore The Fourth, Reylabs, Inc., Rhode Island Coalition to Defend Human and Civil Rights,, Sonic, Statwing, Student Net Alliance, Sunlight Foundation, TechFreedom,, Thomas Drake, ThoughtWorks, TouchCast, X-Lab.

i See “This Meaningful Surveillance Reform Had Bipartisan Support. It Failed Anyway,” Slate (Dec 10, 2014), available at 

ii See “NSA Reform That Passed House Reportedly Cut From ‘Cromnibus’: A landslide vote to end ‘backdoor’ surveillance appears to have been scuttled by backroom deal,” US News and World Report (Dec. 4, 2014), available at 

iii See “NRA joins ACLU lawsuit, claims NSA starting 'gun registry,'” The Hill (Sep. 14, 2013), available at 

iv See “C.I.A. Collects Global Data on Transfers of Money,” New York Times (Nov. 14, 2013), available at 

v See “In Test Project, N.S.A. Tracked Cellphone Locations,” New York Times (Oct. 2, 2013), available at 

vi “Independent review board says NSA phone data program is illegal and should end,” Washington Post (Jan. 23, 2014), available at 

vii See, e.g., “Liberty and Security in a Changing World,” Report and Recommendations of the President’s Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies (Dec. 12, 2013), available at 

viii “NSA weighed ending phone program before leak,” Washington Post (Mar. 30, 2015), available at 

ix “In NSA-intercepted data, those not targeted far outnumber the foreigners who are,” Washington Post (July 5, 2014), available at 

x See ‘Meet Executive Order 12333: The Reagan rule that lets the NSA spy on Americans,” Washington Post (July 18, 2014), available at

xi See Memorandum Opinion, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, available at 

xii See “Florida congressman denied access to censored pages from 9/11 report, Miami Herald (Dec. 29, 2014), available at; “Members of Congress denied access to basic information about NSA,” The Guardian (Aug. 4, 2013), available at 

xiii See “Making Alberto Gonzales look good,” New York Times (June 11, 2013), available at; “It’s about the lying,” The Intercept (July 31, 2014), available at 

xiv See “Congressional Oversight of National Security Reform Agenda” (Dec. 17, 2014), available at 

xv See, e.g., “The Whole Haystack,” The New Yorker (Jan 26, 2015), available at xvi “NSA’s PRISM could cost IT service market $180 billion,” Wall Street Journal (Aug. 16, 2013), available at 

xvii “FBI Director Comey calls on Congress to stop unlockable encryption,” Washington Post (Oct. 17, 2014), available at 

xviii “Americans’ privacy strategies post-Snowden,” Pew Research Center (Mar. 16, 2015), available at 

xix See supra “Americans’ privacy strategies post-Snowden.”


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