Tech Giants Press Senate On NSA Reform

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The NSA reform bill passed by the House has an uncertain future in the Senate. The USA FREEDOM Act will receive a vote in the upper chamber, likely later this week, but whether it has the 60 votes required to pass isn’t clear.

Tech giants want it to pass. The assembled market cap behind Reform Government Surveillance (RGS), a group whose mission you can surmise, today released a letter, urging action in the Senate. The group then started to ping individual lawmakers on Twitter, likely in hopes of ensuring that their missive is read.

(AOL, a member of RGS, and soon to be disliked child that consumes too much bandwidth as part of the Verizon family plan, owns TechCrunch. I own something like 12 AOL shares. Yes, I will buy you lunch.)

The letter is short, hitting on two key points: Punting on reform isn’t such a good idea, and the bill as it currently stands is worth passing. The bill has drawn mixed reviews, with some privacy hawks panning it for not going far enough, and some defense hawks carping that it does altogether too much.

In the previous Congress, surveillance reform died after a bill failed a procedural vote on the measure.

Key to the current push to reform is the coming sunset of parts of the PATRIOT Act, which provides legal foundation for much of the NSA’s surveillance work. If Congress can’t pass something, Section 215, best known for its anchoring of the NSA’s telephone metadata program, goes away. As such, there have been calls for a clean re-up. That potentiality doesn’t seem too likely, except as a stopgap measure to allow for more negotiation time, if the FREEDOM Act fails.

Pressure from tech companies could sway members of Congress who place high value on the thoughts of corporations. RGS has a grip of massive firms behind it, including Google, Twitter and Microsoft. The group allows the companies to speak on NSA reform, but avoid singular pronouncements that might annoy government officials that they have to interact with on a regular basis.

Here’s the text:

Dear Members of the Senate,

Later this week the Senate has an opportunity to pass meaningful and balanced surveillance reform by considering the bipartisan USA Freedom Act. The bill overwhelmingly passed the House with 338 votes. Members from across the political spectrum supported it. Delaying action on reform by extending expiring authorities for two months or any extended period of time would be a missed opportunity.

The USA Freedom Act prevents the bulk collection of Internet metadata under various authorities. The bill allows for transparency about government demands for user information from technology companies and assures that the appropriate oversight and accountability mechanisms are in place.

Our companies came together two years ago to push for essential reforms that are necessary to protect national security, strengthen civil liberties, reaffirm user trust in the Internet, and promote innovation. The Senate can begin delivering on those reforms by passing the USA Freedom Act.