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.
What We're Following See More »
Foreign Policy takes a look at the future of mining the estimated "100,000 near-Earth objects—including asteroids and comets—in the neighborhood of our planet. Some of these NEOs, as they’re called, are small. Others are substantial and potentially packed full of water and various important minerals, such as nickel, cobalt, and iron. One day, advocates believe, those objects will be tapped by variations on the equipment used in the coal mines of Kentucky or in the diamond mines of Africa. And for immense gain: According to industry experts, the contents of a single asteroid could be worth trillions of dollars." But the technology to get us there is only the first step. Experts say "a multinational body might emerge" to manage rights to NEOs, as well as a body of law, including an international court.
Not to be outdone by Jeffrey Goldberg's recent piece in The Atlantic about President Obama's foreign policy, the New York Times Magazine checks in with a longread on the president's economic legacy. In it, Obama is cognizant that the economic reality--73 straight months of growth--isn't matched by public perceptions. Some of that, he says, is due to a constant drumbeat from the right that "that denies any progress." But he also accepts some blame himself. “I mean, the truth of the matter is that if we had been able to more effectively communicate all the steps we had taken to the swing voter,” he said, “then we might have maintained a majority in the House or the Senate.”
Ronald Reagan's children and political allies took to the media and Twitter this week to chide funnyman Will Ferrell for his plans to play a dementia-addled Reagan in his second term in a new comedy entitled Reagan. In an open letter, Reagan's daughter Patti Davis tells Ferrell, who's also a producer on the movie, “Perhaps for your comedy you would like to visit some dementia facilities. I have—I didn’t find anything comedic there, and my hope would be that if you’re a decent human being, you wouldn’t either.” Michael Reagan, the president's son, tweeted, "What an Outrag....Alzheimers is not joke...It kills..You should be ashamed all of you." And former Rep. Joe Walsh called it an example of "Hollywood taking a shot at conservatives again."
In a sign that she’s ready to put a longer-than-expected primary battle behind her, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (D) is no longer going on the air in upcoming primary states. “Team Clinton hasn’t spent a single cent in … California, Indiana, Kentucky, Oregon and West Virginia, while” Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-VT) “campaign has spent a little more than $1 million in those same states.” Meanwhile, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Sanders’ "lone backer in the Senate, said the candidate should end his presidential campaign if he’s losing to Hillary Clinton after the primary season concludes in June, breaking sharply with the candidate who is vowing to take his insurgent bid to the party convention in Philadelphia.”