Major privacy groups push for passage of the End Warrantless Surveillance Act

picture of security camera drawn on a handwritten letter

incredible how / flickr (CC BY 2.0) | Remix by Max Fleishman

Both conservative and liberal groups think this is the best way to reign in the NSA.

A broad swath of privacy and civil-liberties groups on Monday threw their support behind a House bill that would significantly scale back the NSA‘s surveillance capabilities, endorsing the attempt by three leading privacy advocates to go beyond a weaker but more widely supported bill.

The coalition, which includes liberal groups like Demand Progress and conservative groups like FreedomWorks, wrote to Reps. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.), Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), and Ted Poe (R-Texas) praising them for the End Warrantless Surveillance of Americans Act (H.R.2233), a bill that would eliminate warrantless searches of Americans’ metadata and ban the government from mandating backdoors in tech products.

H.R.2233 mirrors an amendment that Poe and Lofgren tried to add to the USA Freedom Act, the compromise legislation to reform the NSA. The committee voted down their amendment on the grounds that adding it would jeopardize the bill’s passage. Opponents of the amendment stressed that the USA Freedom Act was the product of intense negotiations between the White House and congressional leaders and that adding new substantive reforms endangered its chances of becoming law.

“The ongoing revelations about the intrusive nature and broad scope of government surveillance have badly damaged the trust users have in the security of their Internet communications,” reads the letter, which is signed by 29 groups. “This legislation would help begin to restore that trust in three ways.”

The three core goals of the bill, as the letter explains, are:

  • Eliminating a loophole that lets intelligence agencies search through records collected under Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act without a warrant. “This bill would address that loophole by prohibiting searches of those databases for communications of a U.S. person absent a court order or special circumstances,” the letter says.
  • Prohibiting the government from using Executive Order 12333 to carry out such warrantless searches of U.S. persons’ records.
  • Forbidding the government from requesting or demanding that tech companies build special channels into their hardware or software so that government agents can bypass their encryption to gather data. “This is a sensible limitation,” the letter says, “that not only improves transparency of surveillance practices, but also promotes security by avoiding the creation of potential vulnerabilities that can later be exploited by criminals and other bad actors.”

The diverse coalition’s letter of support for Massie, Lofgren, and Poe’s bill points to divisions in Silicon Valley over the right legislative solution to overreaching government surveillance. Also on Monday, Reform Government Surveillance—a group that includes the nation’s largest tech companies—and industry groups like BSA | The Software Alliance announced their support for the USA Freedom Act, saying it “offer[ed] an effective balance that both protects privacy and provides the necessary tools for national security.”

“We congratulate those who participated in the bipartisan, bicameral effort that produced the legislative text,” read the letter posted on Reform Government Surveillance’s Tumblr blog.

Photo via incredible how/Flickr (CC BY 2.0) | Remix by Max Fleishman

Eric Geller

Eric Geller

Eric Geller is a politics reporter who focuses on cybersecurity, surveillance, encryption, and privacy. A former staff writer at the Daily Dot, Geller joined Politico in June 2016, where he's focused on policymaking at the White House, the Justice Department, the State Department, and the Commerce Department.