Google, Facebook Warn NSA Bill Wouldn’t Stop Mass Surveillance

Several powerful tech companies join a chorus of privacy groups withdrawing support for the USA Freedom Act — which the House will vote on Thursday.

A computer workstation bears the National Security Agency (NSA) logo inside the Threat Operations Center inside the Washington suburb of Fort Meade, Maryland, intelligence gathering operation 25 January 2006 after US President George W. Bush delivered a speech behind closed doors and met with employees in advance of Senate hearings on the much-criticized domestic surveillance. 
National Journal
May 21, 2014, 1:36 p.m.

A day be­fore the House will vote on a ma­jor bill de­signed to rein in gov­ern­ment sur­veil­lance, a group of blue-chip tech firms are warn­ing that the meas­ure falls far short of what is ad­vert­ised.

The Re­form Gov­ern­ment Sur­veil­lance co­ali­tion — whose mem­bers in­clude Google, Face­book, Mi­crosoft, AOL, Apple, Twit­ter, Linked­In, Drop­Box, and Ya­hoo — is­sued a state­ment Wed­nes­day an­noun­cing it was pulling its sup­port of the USA Free­dom Act. The le­gis­la­tion would take the stor­age of phone re­cords out of gov­ern­ment hands and keep them with phone com­pan­ies.

But newly amended lan­guage in the bill has “moved in the wrong dir­ec­tion” of true sur­veil­lance re­forms, the tech com­pan­ies said.

“The latest draft opens up an un­ac­cept­able loop­hole that could en­able the bulk col­lec­tion of In­ter­net users’ data,” the co­ali­tion said. “While it makes im­port­ant pro­gress, we can­not sup­port this bill as cur­rently draf­ted and urge Con­gress to close this loop­hole to en­sure mean­ing­ful re­form.”

The loop­hole re­ferred to is the Free­dom Act’s defin­i­tion of a “spe­cif­ic se­lec­tion term,” which un­der­went changes in the new­est ver­sion of the bill re­leased this week. Earli­er drafts, in­clud­ing the one passed two weeks ago by the House Ju­di­ciary and In­tel­li­gence com­mit­tees, defined se­lect­ors as “a per­son, ac­count or en­tity.” But the new lan­guage — which adds words like “ad­dress and “device” and the non-lim­it­ing term “such as” — is seen as more broad.

Also on Wed­nes­day, the Com­puter & Com­mu­nic­a­tions In­dustry As­so­ci­ation, whose mem­bers ad­di­tion­ally in­clude Pan­dora, Sam­sung, Sprint and oth­ers, said it would “not sup­port con­sid­er­a­tion or pas­sage of the USA Free­dom Act in its cur­rent form.”

Sev­er­al pri­vacy groups have already re­vol­ted against the bill, cit­ing sim­il­ar con­cerns with the new lan­guage. Har­ley Gei­ger, seni­or coun­sel with the Cen­ter for Demo­cracy & Tech­no­logy, said the bill would al­low for “an un­ac­cept­able level of sur­veil­lance.” While the lan­guage could im­pose some lim­its on in­fin­itely vast bulk col­lec­tion of phone re­cords, Gei­ger said, it could still po­ten­tially al­low col­lec­tion on areas as large as area codes or cit­ies.

Earli­er on Wed­nes­day, the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion made of­fi­cial its sup­port of the amended Free­dom Act, which is a product of weeks of back­room ne­go­ti­ations among the White House, in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cials and House lead­er­ship.

The House is sched­uled to vote on the bill Thursday un­der closed rules, mean­ing that no amend­ments will be al­lowed.

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