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Reform Government Surveillance urges change to Patriot Act

Reform Government Surveillance (RGS) has issued a public letter urging Congress to reform the United States bulk collection practise.

In an open letter (opens in new tab), organised by the Open Technology Institute, and signed by the American Civil Liberties Union, EFF, Mozilla, Human Rights Watch and Wikimedia among others, it calls to reform section 215 of the USA Patriot Act, which currently serves as the legal basis for the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of telephone metadata and is set to expire on 1 June, 2015.

“Our broad, diverse and bipartisan coalition believes that the status quo is untenable and that it is urgent that Congress move forward with reform,” it said. “Together, we agree that the following elements are essential to any legislative or Administration effort to reform our nation’s surveillance laws.”

The letter calls for a “clear, strong and effective end to bulk collection practices” and said that any collection that does occur under those authorities should have appropriate safeguards in place to protect privacy and users’ rights.

Also, any bill must contain transparency and accountability mechanisms for both Government and company reporting, as well as an appropriate declassification regime for Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court decisions.

The undersigned said: “We believe addressing the above must be a part of any reform package, though there are other reforms that our groups and companies would welcome, and in some cases, believe are essential to any legislation. We also urge Congress to avoid adding new mandates that are controversial and could derail reform efforts.”

Kevin Bankston, policy director of the Open Technology Institute, said: “There are some in Congress who think they can get away with reauthorising the expiring provisions of the Patriot Act without any reforms at all. Today’s letter draws a line in the sand and makes clear that the privacy community and the internet industry do not intend to let that happen without a fight.”

“There are certainly other reforms beyond those listed in this letter that many of us believe are essential, and so even a bill that meets all of our demands is unlikely to receive unanimous support from the tech and privacy communities. However, our letter is intended to set the floor for the terms of the debate and make crystal clear that any proposal that fails to meet these basic criteria will face our unanimous opposition.”

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