Civ Lib Groups, Tech Firms Oppose Big Brother Provision

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UPDATE 9/22/15: In a victory for free speech, this big brother provision has been dropped from the bill. Senator Wyden has lifted his hold. The bill is widely expected to pass later this year.

More than 30 free speech, privacy and civil liberties groups, including BORDC/DDF, are fighting a provision adopted behind closed doors and buried in the massive Intelligence Authorization bill that would require internet companies to report ‘terrorist activity’ on their platforms. But ‘terrorist activity,’ is not defined in the bill and is so broad and vague it could sweep up constitutionally-protected speech. In a letter to the Senate, we wrote:

This provision risks bringing wholly innocent people under the scrutiny of the U.S. government in a procedure that includes no limits on the use of the reported information and no safeguards against abuse. Such a reporting requirement would create a chilling effect on constitutionally protected speech and would impermissibly burden individuals’ First and Fourth Amendment rights.

Tech giants are also opposed to the measure. Google, Facebook, Twitter and others are urging the Senate to strip the provision from the bill, noting that “the vague and overbroad term any “terrorist activity,” would result in overbroad reporting to the government, swamping law enforcement with useless information, and potentially raising First Amendment and privacy concerns for the user who posted the item.” The tech companies also warn that the law could serve as a “global template” for authoritarian regimes to crack down on political speech, requiring “that Internet companies police their citizens’ activities.” The Intelligence bill passed out of committee unanimously, but Senator Wyden has put a hold on the bill, blocking a vote on the Senate floor, because of this provision. In a statement he explained, “Internet companies should not be subject to broad requirements to police the speech of their users.” Coalition Letter to Senate Re Section 603 of Intelligence Authorization Act – 4 August 2015