After the NSA’s surprise announcement that it would pull back on a contentious surveillance tactic, privacy advocates found themselves in a strange place in 2017: They’d actually won a thing.
With a mix of cautious optimism and rightfully cynical pragmatism, the organizations and figures so often quietly waging a thankless war to protect the online privacy of American citizens found themselves with reason to celebrate.
Here’s what they had to say about the win and the battle ahead:
Open Technology Institute‘s Robyn Greene, policy counsel and government affairs lead:
“Ending ‘about’ collection is a huge privacy win, but this story also reinforces that robust legislative reforms of Section 702, including a statutory ban on ‘about’ collection, are necessary. The intelligence community has long claimed that reform is not needed because the NSA’s minimization procedures provide Americans with all of the protections they need.
OTI and other privacy groups have argued that despite the intelligence community’s claims, those procedures are insufficient, and now it is apparent that they offered even less protection than we initially thought; the NSA has persistently violated them for years. Congress must pass a 702 reform bill that limits NSA collection and provides stronger back-end protections so that Americans’ privacy is not dependent on minimization procedures that offer such minimal safeguards against abuse.”
Oregon Senator Ron Wyden:
“This change ends a practice that could result in Americans’ communications being collected without a warrant merely for mentioning a foreign target,” Wyden said. “For years, I’ve repeatedly raised concerns that this amounted to an end run around the Fourth Amendment. This transparency should be commended. To permanently protect Americans’ rights, I intend to introduce legislation banning this kind of collection in the future.”
Neema Singh Guliani, American Civil Liberties Union legislative counsel:
“This development underscores the need for Congress to significantly reform Section 702 of FISA, which will continue to allow warrantless surveillance of Americans. While the NSA’s policy change will curb some of the most egregious abuses under the statute, it is at best a partial fix. Congress should take steps to ensure such practices are never resurrected and end policies that permit broad, warrantless surveillance under Section 702, which is up for reauthorization at the end of the year.”
The Center for Democracy and Technology‘s Deputy Director of the Freedom, Security, and Technology Project, Michelle Richardson:
“The content of our emails and texts contains incredibly personal information about our work, our families, and our most intimate thoughts. The NSA should never have been vacuuming up all of these communications, many of which involved Americans, without a warrant. While we welcome the voluntary stopping of this practice, it’s clear that Section 702 must be reformed so that the government cannot collect this information in the future.”
“Although today’s news is welcome, the NSA has demonstrated, time and time again, that it will only institute reforms after serious and repeated legal violations occur. Congress should demand a full and public explanation, including the long-overdue accounting for how many Americans have been impacted by NSA surveillance.
And it is only a first step toward reining in the surveillance abuses occurring under Section 702, enacted as part of the FISA Amendments Act. Section 702 surveillance remains unconstitutional, and we’ll continue fighting in the courts and in Congress to bring an end to this warrantless surveillance.”
If all of this stuff has you a bit lost, you can brush up with our surveillance reform primer, hear insight from a former NSA director, and follow the latest developments with our Section 702 tag. To stay in touch with future privacy developments, the people and organizations quoted above offer some great starting places.