July 28, 2015

By Elizabeth Holland

Today, AALL joins a number a number of privacy advocates, civil liberties groups, security experts, and technology companies for a Day of Action in opposition to the Cyber Information Sharing Act (CISA, S. 754). Our message is simple: CISA is a bad bill. While this legislation promises security, in actuality, it does more to increase surveillance, undermine transparency, and leave your personal information vulnerable to attack than it does to protect against cyber threats. With the Senate slated to consider it in the coming weeks – even as early as next week– we urge members of Congress to oppose CISA and, should push come to shove, implore President Obama to veto it.

Chief among our privacy concerns with CISA is the permission the bill grants for overbroad information sharing. Under CISA, companies in the private sector are authorized to share information about their users’ Internet activity with the federal government, even when that data is unnecessary to identify or protect against a threat. Information shared with one federal agency could then be shared throughout the government, potentially putting your personal information or that of your library users in the hands of agencies like the National Security Agency, Department of Justice, and the Department of Defense and leaving the information vulnerable to hackers.

CISA would also add a new exemption to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) for the first time since 1967. Section 10 of the bill provides that any and all information shared with or provided to the federal government pursuant to CISA is exempt from disclosure under FOIA, including private information unrelated to a cybersecurity threat. Passing CISA would also give jurisdiction over FOIA to the most secretive committee in the Senate, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI), which almost never holds public hearings and has never held one on this legislation. The Senate Judiciary Committee, which has jurisdiction over FOIA, has never held hearings or had an opportunity to consider the justification for the new FOIA exemption. As our friends at posit, “allowing SSCI to write new exemptions to FOIA, without any public consideration or input from the Judiciary Committee, could set a dangerous precedent for further weakening the law at the intelligence community’s request.”

Cybersecurity is an increasingly important issue for U.S. industry, federal, and state governmental entities and AALL would strongly support a good-faith effort to improve information sharing for cybersecurity purposes. However, CISA is not that legislation. Write your Senators today to urge them to oppose CISA for the automatic and over-broad surveillance authorities and transparency-weakening provisions it would enable.


Surveillance Reform Update: On Filibusters, Sunsets, and Reauthorization

May 21, 2015

By Elizabeth Holland

Yesterday afternoon, Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) took to the Senate floor to lambast government surveillance programs. Over the course of 10.5 hours, he was joined by members from both parties who spoke at length about their opposition to the USA PATRIOT Act and called for substantial reform to protect Americans’ privacy from government intrusion.

Whether Senator Paul’s talk-a-thon qualified as a true filibuster is unclear; though his control of the floor prevented Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) from filing cloture on both the AALL-supported USA FREEDOM Act (H.R. 2048) and a bill to extend the expiring provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act for two months (S. 1357),  it’s not certain that Sen. McConnell ever intended to do so on Wednesday. Nonetheless, Sen. Paul’s extended floor speech came as the Senate comes down to the wire, making the chance of a clean reauthorization of the expiring USA PATRIOT Act  provisions before the June 1 deadline increasingly improbable.

Senators are now scrambling to avoid a sunset of Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act (the “library records” provision). This morning, McConnell filed cloture on H.R. 2048 and S. 1357, setting up a probable Saturday vote. However, the House has already adjourned for its Memorial Day recess, meaning the provisions will expire before their scheduled return unless the Senate passes the House-approved USA FREEDOM Act. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) held his ground today saying, “The House has acted. It’s time for the Senate to act. If they act, we’ll take a look at what they do and make a decision on how to proceed.”  If the Senate passes a short-term reauthorization, the out-of-town House would need to agree to it next week under unanimous consent during its pro forma session.

As the clock ticks, more Senators have announced their support for the USA FREEDOM Act, which would effectively end the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of Americas’ telephone data, including Senator Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), the lone Democrat to oppose the bill last year when it fell two votes shy of cloture. A report released today by the Department of Justice’s Office of the Inspector General shows the expiring Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act has been used by the Federal Bureau of Investigation to collect “telephone records of U.S. persons who were not the subject of or associated with the subjects of authorized investigations.” The Second Circuit Court of Appeals already ruled the program unconstitutional and an April 2015 poll commissioned by the ACLU shows Americans believe the USA PATRIOT Act should not be reauthorized in its current form by nearly a 2:1 margin (60 percent modify, 34 percent preserve).

AALL urges the Senate to pass the USA FREEDOM Act, without weakening amendment, before the upper chamber leaves town for the Memorial Day recess. Use our Legislative Action Center to contact your members of Congress in support of privacy reform and urge your Senators and Representative to oppose any legislation that extends the USA PATRIOT Act without amendment.

The timing and strategy of Congressional action on this issue are in flux and subject to change. Stay tuned to the Washington Blawg and follow us on Twitter @AALL_GRO for the latest.

What’s next for USA FREEDOM?

May 23, 2014

By Elizabeth Holland

On Thursday, the House of Representatives passed the USA FREEDOM Act (H.R. 3361) in a 302-121 vote. In the eleven months since the Edward Snowden leaks shed light on the National Security Agency’s (NSA) secret spying practices, the political tide has clearly shifted against government surveillance. But while House passage of the USA FREEDOM Act indicates that lawmakers are critical of current surveillance practices, the USA FREEDOM Act passed by the House does not go far enough to protect the privacy of library users and all Americans.

Despite calls from privacy advocates and open government groups to strengthen the USA FREEDOM Act before sending it to the floor, the House Rules Committee made substantial modifications to the bill due to pressure from the Obama Administration. In the version passed by the House, search selector terms used by the NSA to define the scope of data requests have been broadened in such a way that could still allow bulk collection. The bill also limits transparency reporting for companies who receive such requests for data, and wrongly shifts the role of declassifying court decisions from the attorney general to the director of national intelligence. Many of the USA FREEDOM Act’s original co-sponsors expressed disappointment with the weakened legislation, with 76 of the bill’s 152 co-sponsors ultimately voting against it.

Congress can still act to reign in the NSA’s spying programs as the Senate Judiciary Committee will likely take up the USA FREEDOM Act this summer. Several leading senators have said they want a stronger bill and Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) has pledged his commitment to “meaningful reform.”

AALL urges the Senate to support improvements to the USA FREEDOM Act to protect the privacy of all Americans and ensure greater transparency about their government’s actions. 

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