The Stack Archive

Microsoft joins ‘coalition of the unwilling’ against extent of government surveillance

Wed 25 Mar 2015

Microsoft has sent an open letter [PDF] to President Barack Obama, Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper and NSA chief Admiral Michael Rogers, among many others, calling for ‘a clear, strong, and effective end to bulk collection practices under the USA PATRIOT Act’.

The missive – which has an impressive array of cosignatories including Wikimedia, Mozilla, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, the EFF and the American Civil Liberties Union – is brief enough to fully quote:

We the undersigned represent a wide range of privacy and human rights advocates, technology companies, and trade associations that hold an equally wide range of positions on the issue of surveillance reform. Many of us have differing views on exactly what reforms must be included in any bill reauthorizing USA PATRIOT Act Section 215, which currently serves as the legal basis for the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of telephone metadata and is set to expire on June 1, 2015. That said, our broad, diverse, and bipartisan coalition believes that the status quo is untenable and that it is urgent that Congress move forward with reform.

Together, we agree that the following elements are essential to any legislative or Administration effort to reform our nation’s surveillance laws:

– There must be a clear, strong, and effective end to bulk collection practices under the USA PATRIOT Act, including under the Section 215 records authority and the Section 214 authority regarding pen registers and trap & trace devices. Any collection that does occur under those authorities should have appropriate safeguards in place to protect privacy and users’ rights.

– The 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.

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.

It has been nearly two years since the first news stories revealed the scope of the United States’ surveillance and bulk collection activities. Now is the time to take on meaningful legislative reforms to the nation’s surveillance programs that maintain national security while preserving privacy, transparency, and accountability. We strongly encourage both the White House and Members of Congress to support the above reforms and oppose any efforts to enact any legislation that does not address them.

Certain critical aspects of Section 215 of the Patriot Act are due to ‘sunset’ in June of this year, notably the ‘Lone Wolf Provision’ and the ‘Roving Wiretap’ provision, but both are due for review. Even limitations to the existing scope of the Patriot Act are controversial, with republican Senator Marco Rubio declaring that the act should never expire. The senator said “I urge my colleagues to consider a permanent extension of the counterterrorism tools our intelligence community relies on to keep the American people safe,”


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