In the Streets
Shortly after the first of the Snowden leaks, The Montgomery County Civil Rights Coalition, along with DDF and with the support of other national groups quickly organized the first protest at the Capitol against NSA’s mass surveillance. There were also rallies in other major cities across the country on an ad hoc basis. The first coordinated day of actions took place on July 4th, organized by a new coalition called Restore the Fourth. Over 50 local protests were organized in 48 states and the District of Columbia. The largest protests, such as those in Boston, Washington DC, New York, and San Francisco, each had an average range of 500-1000 individuals. DDF Executive Director Sue Udry spoke at the Washington DC rally.
In the Courts
A number of cases challenging the constitutionality of the mass surveillance programs have been filed, as well as several FOIA lawsuits to get details on NSA programs and FISA court decisions and opinions. Defending Dissent Foundation, as a member of the Charity and Security Coalition joined a lawsuit filed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation against the National Security Agency over the unconstitutional collection of bulk telephone call records. There are 22 plaintiffs in the case, First Unitarian Church of L.A. v. the NSA, alleging that government surveillance under Section 215 of the Patriot Act violates Americans’ First Amendment right to freedom of association. It is a diverse coalition of groups representing a range of interests from gun rights to environmentalism, drug-policy reform, human rights, open-source technology, media reform and religious freedom.
Technology companies are also in court, fighting for the right to disclose information about their compliance with government demands for data. Google, Microsoft, Facebook and Yahoo are asking the FISA court to allow them to reveal every six months the precise number of demands for data as well as the number of users affected. They argue that the government has no legitimate interest in keeping that information secret, and that the prohibition violates the First Amendment.
We came so close to de-funding the NSA’s domestic surveillance program on July 27 when the House of Representatives almost passed the Amash/Conyers amendment with a vote of 205-217. This is not the only vote Congress will take on mass surveillance, but it was a great start. Dozens of bills have been introduced to reform the PATRIOT Act, the FISA Amendments Act and the FISA Court or to increase transparency. Find a comprehensive list of bills here.
The most likely bills to move will be competing vehicles offered by the Intelligence and Judiciary committees. The bills offered by members of the Judiciary committees are expected to be measures we can support, but the Senator Feinstein and Rep. Rogers (Intelligence committees) are expected to offer a bill that will codify bulk collection. This is a fast moving issue so please check back for updates. Here’s an overview of some of the strongest bills introduced so far:
In the House: The Surveillance State Repeal Act (HR 2818) Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ), no co-sponsors Repeals the PATRIOT and FISA Amendments Acts and reinstates a uniform probable cause-based warrant standard for surveillance requests; prohibits the federal government from forcing technology companies to build hardware or software “back doors” that allow the government to bypass encryption or privacy technology.
The bill includes some legal protections for national security whistleblowers, as well as changes to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to give it greater expertise in reviewing and challenging executive branch applications for surveillance operations. This is an exceptionally strong and comprehensive bill.
To our surprise, on September 23, the New York Times ran an editorial urging Congress to pass the bill, primarily due to provisions prohibiting government ‘back doors’ to bypass encryption. The LIBERT-E Act (HR 2399) Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), 51 co-sponsors Seeks to end bulk collection by raising the standard for collection, allows gag orders to be challenged immediately, requires the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance court to release unclassified summaries of all decisions, orders and opinions and requires a privacy impact report by the Inspectors General of DOJ and relevant intelligence agencies.
In the Senate: Intelligence Oversight & Surveillance Reform Act (S 1551) Sens. Wyden(D-OR), M. Udall(D-CO), Blumenthal(D-CT), Paul(R-KY) This bill was just introduced as we went to press, so we don’t have a bill number yet. A comprehensive bill including reforms to: prohibit bulk collection of phone and internet data; prohibit “back door searches” and reverse targeting; create a Constitutional Advocate for the FISA court and de-classify FISA court opinions; permit companies to disclose statistics on their cooperation with government surveillance and require government disclosure of surveillance statistics; allow the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board to issue subpoenas to compel testimony from government officials.
FISA Accountability Act (S 1215) Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), 10 co-sponsors The bill raises the standard for the collection of telephony metadata (it’s still too broad in our opinion, but a considerable improvement) and requires minimization procedures, and requires unclassified reporting on the privacy impact of the use of these authorities. The bill shortens the sunset for the FISA Amendments Act from December 2017 to June 2015. The June 2015 sunset would align with expiring USA PATRIOT Act provisions, and enable Congress to address these FISA provisions all at once, instead of in a piecemeal fashion.