This post was written by Trevor Timm and was originally published on the Electronic Frontier Foundation's Deep Links blog.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee and one of the NSA’s biggest defenders, released what she calls an NSA “reform” bill [yesterday].
Don’t be fooled: the bill codifies some of the NSA’s worst practices, would be a huge setback for everyone’s privacy, and it would permanently entrench the NSA’s collection of every phone record held by U.S. telecoms. We urge members of Congress to oppose it.
We learned for the first time in June that the NSA secretly twisted and re-interpreted Section 215 of the Patriot Act six years ago to allow them to vacuum up every phone record in America—continuing an unconstitutional program that began in 2001. The new leaks about this mass surveillance program four months ago have led to a sea change in how Americans view privacy, and poll after poll has shown the public wants it to stop.
But instead of listening to her constituents, Sen. Feinstein put forth a bill designed to allow the NSA to monitor their calls. Sen. Feinstein wants the NSA to continue to collect the metadata of every phone call in the United States—that’s who you call, who calls you, the time and length of the conversation, and under the government’s interpretation, potentially your location—and store it for five years. This is not an NSA reform bill, it’s an NSA entrenchment bill.
Other parts of the bill claim to bring a modicum of transparency to small parts of the NSA, but requiring some modest reporting requirements, like how many times NSA searches this database and audit trails for who does the searching.
But its real goal seems to be to just paint a veneer of transparency over still deeply secret programs. It does nothing to stop NSA from weakening entire encryption systems, it does nothing to stop them from hacking into the communications links of Google and Yahoo’s data centers, and it does nothing to reform the PRISM Internet surveillance program.
Ironically, a bill that claims to bring transparency to the NSA was debated, discussed and modified by the Intelligence Committee today in secret.
The bill does make minor improvements in other areas, by explicitly allowing the FISA court to accept amicus briefs in certain circumstances (though it has already done so with existing authority), and authorizing a report to Congress will summarize significant FISA court opinions. Summarize, but not release.
Make no mistake: this is not an NSA reform bill at all. Instead of codifies one of the NSA’s most controversial surveillance programs. We urge you to call your Senator to oppose Sen. Feinstein’s disingenuous bill.