Tech Firms Urge Congress to Enact Surveillance Reforms

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More than thirty leading internet companies have sent a letter to the chair of the House Judiciary Committee asking for reforms to the law used for carrying out mass surveillance.

The letter concerns Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). The act must be renewed by Congress before the end of the year.

The Register notes that over the years, the U.S. security agencies have creatively interpreted the law to allow them to store information on potentially millions of U.S. citizens – even though the law specifically requires the opposite. These agencies have allowed that vast database to be searched during investigations of possible crimes committed in the United States – “again, an interpretation that goes directly against the explicit wording of the law,” the Register writes.

The letter makes five specific requests:

— The NSA has announced that it would end its practice of gathering information “about” a foreign intelligence target, rather than simply communication to or from that person. The tech companies asks Congress to make this change permanent.

— The second request asks that judicial oversight be required before any government agency queries the 702 database for information on U.S. citizens.

— The third requested change is that the definition of “foreign intelligence information” be tightened up to limit what can be gathered by the security services.

— Fourth, the tech companies ask for “increased oversight and transparency” of Section 702 data collection, stating that they should be allowed to disclose the number of requests they receive from the authorities as well as be more precise about what those requests encompass.

— Fifth, they ask for greater transparency “around how the communications of U.S. persons that are incidentally collected under Section 702 are searched and used, including how often 702 databases are queried using identifiers that are tied to U.S. persons.”

Here is the letter, send on 26 May:

The Honorable Bob Goodlatte, Chairman
House Judiciary Committee
House of Representatives
2138 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20515

Dear Chairman Goodlatte:

As U.S.-based companies that provide consumer and business technology, products, and services around the world through the use of electronic data, we were pleased to see that you included in your “Innovation and Competitiveness Agenda” for the 115th Congress a reference to reforming Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 (50 U.S.C.1881a).  We are writing to express our support for reforms to Section 702 that would maintain its utility to the U.S.intelligence community while increasing the program’s privacy protections and transparency. 

As you consider reforms to Section 702, we recommend that you adopt the following changes.  First, reauthorization legislation should codify recent changes made to “about” collection pursuant to NSA’s Upstream program.  This reform would merely codify changes already embraced by the U.S.government with the imprimatur of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) to correct deficiencies that implicate the constitutional rights of U.S. citizens.  

Second, reauthorization legislation should require judicial oversight for government queries of the contents of 702 material for the communications of U.S. persons (given that U.S. persons are not the target of 702). 

Third, reauthorization legislation should narrow the definition of “foreign intelligence information” under FISA to reduce the likelihood of collecting information about non-U.S.persons who are not suspected of wrongdoing.  

Fourth, increasing oversight and transparency of Section 702 collection will improve confidence in both its utility and lawfulness. Companies should be allowed to disclose the number of requests they receive by a legal authority and should be permitted to make more granular disclosures concerning the volume of national security demands that they receive.  We also support further declassification of FISC orders. 

Finally, there should be greater transparency around how the communications of U.S. persons that are incidentally collected under Section 702 are searched and used, including how often 702 databases are queried using identifiers that are tied to U.S. persons.

We look forward to working with you and Ranking Member Conyers, as well as your counterparts in the Senate, as you consider improvements to Section 702 of the FISAAmendments Act. 

Yours Sincerely, 

Cisco Systems, Inc.
Computer & Communications Industry Association (CCIA) Consumer Action cPanel, Inc.
Data Foundry
Golden Frog Google i2Coalition
Internet Association

cc: The Honorable John Conyers, Ranking Member, House Judiciary Committee

“It is, however, worth noting the companies that have not signed the letter,” the Resister writes. “Notably that includes Apple, which for unclear reasons continues to do its own thing when it comes to security. There are also no security companies on the list and no chip companies. Critically, there are no telcos – as they are perhaps the biggest sources of data for law enforcement and are known to give the NSA direct access to their raw traffic.”

This article is published courtesy of Homeland Security News Wire

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