A letter sent from major tech companies and civil society groups demanded Congress end the mass collection of calling records under Section 215 of the Patriot Act before an upcoming June 1 expiration date. The letter was signed by the Reform Government Surveillance coalition; which represents major tech companies like Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo; and, privacy groups like ACLU and EFF.
Specifically, the letter urges
a clear, strong, and effective end to bulk collection practices under the USA PATRIOT Act, including under the Section 215 records authority and the Section 214 authority regarding pen registers and trap & trace devices. Any collection that does occur under those authorities should have appropriate safeguards in place to protect privacy and users’ rights.
Even though the Attorney General and Director of National Intelligence have said the USA Freedom Act retains operational capabilities, the commitment by companies to end bulk collection is an important step in a Republican-led Congress that has increasingly used national security threats to stave off Section 215 reform.
The letter sends Congress a clear message: any bill to reform Section 215 must end mass collection, provide transparency requirements, and avoid adding any data retention or technology mandates. In the past we’ve defined ending bulk collection as a simple ban on mass spying. Similarly, groups like the Center for Democracy and Technology have noted that ending bulk collection means prohibiting the large-scale government collection and retention of non-public records about persons who are not connected to national security threats. Other groups, like the Open Technology Institute, have included the use of “an exclusive list of ‘unique’ identifiers” as a way to successfully end mass collection under Section 215.
We agree. And we hope Congress gets the message that any bill to fix Section 215 must concretely end the mass collection of records.