Amended act includes 'misleading and ambiguous loophole' requiring companies to provide personal records to government
(WASHINGTON, D.C., 6/5/14) -- Today the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the nation's largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization, joined the Electronic Freedom Foundation, the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, the Center for Democracy and Technology, ACCESS, and the New America Foundation's Open Technology Institute in withdrawing its support for the USA FREEDOM Act as adopted by the House.
Turning to the Senate, CAIR joins many other national civil liberties, human rights and public interest organizations in a letter to leadership and members of the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary and Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in calling for an end to unconstitutional government spying programs by asking that they produce legislation which meaningfully restores privacy rights.
Introduced by House Terrorism Subcommittee Chairman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) in October 2013, the USA FREEDOM Act (H.R. 3361) was supposed to be Congress' first significant action toward prohibiting the NSA's bulk collection of American's telephone and internet records.
Instead, on May 22 the House passed a less than compressive, significantly weakened version of the bill that some of its original cosponsors including Congressmen Mike Honda (D-CA) and Justin Amash (R-MI) voted against. Passing the House by a 303-121 margin, the bill's new language bans indiscriminate bulk collection but codifies large scale domestic spying practices.
The newly-adopted version of the USA Freedom Act extends by two years the originally proposed sunset of Section 215 of the Patriot Act from June 2015 to 2017.
Under Section 215, the NSA and FBI have been able to use the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) to compel the nation's phone carriers and businesses like Google, Yahoo!, Facebook, Microsoft (Hotmail, etc.), Apple, PalTalk, YouTube, Skype and AOL to turn over the records of millions of Americans, for national security purposes.
The original version of the USA Freedom Act proposed to limit any government request under Section 215 to the records of foreign powers or agents of foreign powers or specific individuals in close contact with such suspected agents and entities.
The amended act now includes a misleading and ambiguous loophole supported by the nation's intelligence community and the Administration, which permits the government to seek an FISC order requiring telephone and internet companies to provide personal records that match "specific selection terms."
Such court orders could lead to private businesses turning over large quantities of phone records from certain area codes, ZIP codes, and regions of the U.S. It could also be interpreted to permit collection from certain electronic devices, email hosts or other internet records that contain "specific" search "terms."
Since the original bill's introduction, CAIR strongly supported the act as a means to restoring the privacy rights of all citizens. However, CAIR can no longer support the act as adopted by the House in its watered down state.
Looking forward, CAIR urges Congress to adopt comprehensive domestic spying reform measures like the Surveillance State Repeal Act (H.R.2818) introduced by Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ) which would repeal the USA Freedom Act and FISA Amendments Act of 2008. Repealing these two acts would put an immediate end to bulk collection and require the government to have probable cause before obtaining the records of U.S. persons.
CAIR is America's largest Muslim civil liberties and advocacy organization. Its mission is to enhance the understanding of Islam, encourage dialogue, protect civil liberties, empower American Muslims, and build coalitions that promote justice and mutual understanding.
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CONTACT: CAIR Government Affairs Manager Robert S. McCaw, [email protected], 202-742-6448