This morning, a remarkable “We Need To Know” coalition sent a strong message to Capitol Hill and the White House in advocating for surveillance transparency legislation — that is, in making it possible and legal for companies to report the extent of the demands for user data they receive under the FISA Amendment Act and via “National Security Letters” (NSLs). From the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT) announcement:
The new letter “voices the signers’ strong support for Senator Al Franken’s S. 1452, the Surveillance Transparency Act of 2013, and Representative Zoe Lofgren’s H.R. 3035, the Surveillance Order Reporting Act of 2013, each of which would clarify that companies have the right to publish basic statistics about the government demands for user data that they receive—including demands under FISA, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.”
Franken’s bill also requires the government to come clean about its data requests with annual reports.
We’re realistic though, and suspect that some of the other co-signers will get a *little* more attention on Capitol Hill than we will: not ‘just’ the ACLU, BORDC, Defending Dissent, and EFF, to name a few of the key civil liberties groups on the signature list, but also a number of tech companies you may have heard of — including AOL, Yahoo, Microsoft, Twitter, Apple, and Facebook.
This is an important initiative that we believe can and must succeed: transparency bills like these are a necessary part of reforms to the metastasizing surveillance state that’s been built over the past 12 years. As CDT’s Kevin Bankston puts it,
As America and the world debate what level of government surveillance is acceptable in a 21st century democracy, there is at least one point of growing consensus between advocates, companies and policymakers: greater transparency around government surveillance is absolutely necessary to ensure accountability and prevent abuse of these ever-more powerful technologies.
Of course, transparency by itself is not enough. So we’ll also be continuing to advocate fundamental reforms to federal law so that data requests can’t be made in the first place without individualized suspicion.
You know, like what the Fourth Amendment requires.
- Tech firms push for NSA surveillance transparency bills (Gross, PCWorld, 9/30)
- …Tech companies, groups write Hill on FISA transparency (again) (Byars, Politico MorningTech, 9/30)