Tech Groups Urge Congress to Get to Work on USA Freedom Act
When lawmakers returned to the Hill from their summer recess this month, a letter from several technology trade associations was waiting for them. Its message: Pass the USA Freedom Act.
Late last week, Yahoo! made public the secret legal battle that it was engaged in with the U.S. government in 2008 over repeated requests for customer data. The internet giant refused to comply with the requests, but was ultimately compelled to do so under threat of a $250,000-per-day fine, according to unsealed legal documents.
This was just the latest example of government data collection and surveillance in the post-Snowden leaks era, but it could be one of the last.
If passed into law, the USA Freedom Act would severely limit the federal government’s ability to continue to collect massive amounts of customer data from telecommunications companies and internet service providers. The bill (S.2685), cosponsored by Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Al Franken (D-MN), Mike Lee (R-UT), and Dean Heller (R-NV), was introduced in July, but no action has been taken since then.
In a letter [PDF] to the Senate earlier this month, a group of technology trade associations urged the lawmakers to act quickly to pass the bill.
“The revelations about the U.S. government’s surveillance programs that began in June of 2013 have led to an erosion of public trust in the U.S. government and the U.S. technology sector,” the groups wrote. “In an effort to begin restoring that trust, the USA Freedom Act will prevent the bulk collection of Internet metadata, call detail records, and other tangible things in a manner that both enhances privacy and protects national security.”
Cosigned by The Software Alliance, Computer and Communications Industry Association, Software and Information Industry Association, Information Technology Industry Council, and Reform Government Surveillance, the letter points to economic damage tech companies have suffered overseas due to the surveillance-program revelations.
“Other countries are considering proposals that would limit data flows between countries, which would have a negative impact on the efficiencies upon which the borderless Internet relies,” they wrote. “The transparency measures in the USA Freedom Act are designed to alleviate some of the concerns behind such actions by allowing companies to be more transparent about the orders they receive from the government pursuant to its surveillance authorities.”
The House version of the bill (H.R.3361) was voted on and passed in May, but major tech companies expressed their concerns over perceived loopholes at the time. In a similar letter sent to the Senate in June, the groups wrote that the House measure could “permit bulk collection of Internet ‘metadata’ (e.g. who you email and who emails you), something the Administration and Congress said they intended to end.”
Despite the push, any action on the bill isn’t expected to occur before midterm elections in November.