Spying and the Patriot Act: Bulk collection of phone records set to expire

Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which U.S. spy agencies have used to justify mass collection of phone records, is set to expire June 1. The Senate will hold a special session Sunday to try to figure out what to do.

Here’s what a coalition of public advocacy, industry and trade groups don’t want the Senate to do: pass the FISA Improvements Act of 2015 and the FISA Reform Act of 2015. The measures don’t do enough to rein in government spying, the coalition said in a letter dated Thursday and addressed to Mitch McConnell, the Senate Majority Leader, and Harry Reid, the Senate Minority Leader.

The bills “would weaken privacy, civil liberties, and the digital economy,” the letter says.

The Obama administration has called for action, and quick. It likes the USA Freedom Act, which the House passed earlier this month — but the Senate has rejected it time and again, most recently last week.

Supporters of the USA Freedom Act say it would end bulk collection of domestic phone records, requiring the government to ask for specific records from phone companies.The tech industry last fall voiced support for the bill. But The Intercept notes that opponents say the bill might actually codify bulk collection. And public advocacy group Electronic Frontier Foundation pulled its support for the measure and went “neutral” after a recent court ruling declaring the bulk phone records collection illegal, saying lawmakers should strengthen the act.

Some just want Congress to let the Patriot Act’s surveillance provisions expire. Hillicon Valley reports that thousands of websites are protesting the Patriot Act by blocking traffic from Congress. If visitors to the websites use IP addresses from Congress, they are redirected to a protest page that reads “Congress: this is a blackout. We are blocking your access until you end mass surveillance laws. You have presented Americans with the false dichotomy of reauthorizing the PATRIOT Act or passing the USA Freedom Act. The real answer is to end all authorities used to conduct mass surveillance.”

 

Photo from Associated Press archives

 

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  • keif malone

    The Democrats are supposedly the party of civil liberties, but Obama is fighting to retain the power to spy on any American at any time. Something’s amiss.

 
 
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