REQUEST TO EDITORIAL PAGE EDITORS & WRITERS - November 4, 2013
Contact: Larry Akey, Director of Communications, (202)580-6922 [o] or (202)580-9313 [c], lakey@constitutionproject.org
        

To:          Editorial Page Editors and Writers

From:      Virginia Sloan, President, The Constitution Project

Date:       November 4, 2013

Re:          Request to Write: Legislation on NSA Surveillance Programs

 

Over the past weeks and months, we've learned that the National Security Agency is sweeping up Americans' domestic telephone records, searching the content of our international communications without a warrant, even storing our online address books and contact lists.  Last Wednesday, another disclosure revealed that NSA has broken into Google's and Yahoo's private fiber networks outside the U.S. to intercept massive amounts of user information from their data centers. 

 

In our opinion, the government hasn't made its case for the legality or usefulness of these bulk collection programs.  And its denials of some of these activities are dubious, at best.  Meanwhile, constitutionally guaranteed rights of privacy and freedom of speech are jeopardized by the NSA's apparently unlimited appetite for information. 

 

Recently, leaders of the Senate and House Judiciary Committees, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Representative Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) respectively, introduced bipartisan legislation that sets some reasonable limits on the NSA's surveillance authority.  We urge you to editorialize IN FAVOR of the this critical legislation. 

 

Known as the USA FREEDOM Act, the bill tightens standards and adds protections for Americans while preserving the NSA's ability to collect information from suspected spies and terrorists, as well as those who communicate with them or about them.  In the Senate, the bill already has 17 co-sponsors, and in the House, where a bill cutting off funding for the surveillance program was closely defeated this summer, the bill has now garnered nearly 90 co-sponsors.

 

The Constitution Project, an organization that brings together legal and policy experts from across the political and ideological spectrum to create bipartisan consensus, strongly supports the USA FREEDOM Act.  Indeed, the bill adopts many reforms to the Patriot Act and FISA that our bipartisan and expert Liberty & Security Committee has long recommended.  

 

Importantly, the bill would prevent bulk, indiscriminate collection of Americans' phone call and internet records within the United States.  And with an exception for emergencies, the bill would also close the loopholes permitting warrantless searches of Americans' email content and other data collected in the course of intercepting international communications.  Just as importantly, the bill would add significant transparency and reporting requirements, allowing for more meaningful congressional oversight and public debate about the programs.  Please see the section-by-section summary of this important legislation provided by Representative Sensenbrenner's office, as well as a two-page overview provided by Senator Leahy's judiciary committee staff.   

 

Individual members of our Liberty and Security Committee who have endorsed the USA FREEDOM Act include: former Republican Congressman Bob Barr; progressive columnist and law professor David Cole; David Keene, a former president of the National Rifle Association and former head of the American Conservative Union; and Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, Secretary of State Colin Powell's chief of staff.  Other endorsers include the American Booksellers Association, American Civil Liberties Union, Association of American Publishers, Brennan Center for Justice, Center for Democracy and Technology, and PEN American Center.  

 

The Senate Intelligence Committee voted behind closed doors on October 31 on a different bill, introduced by Committee Chair Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Vice Chair Saxby Chambliss (R-GA), addressing some of the same issues.  But because their bill allows the continued bulk collection of all American telephone records, instead of outlawing it -- and even adds new authority to collect domestic email records -- while adding only minimal safeguards and reporting requirements, many are calling the Senate Intelligence Committee's bill a huge step backwards.

 

A battle between the two bills has begun, with nothing less than the future of digital privacy - and the privacy of all Americans - at stake. Again, we urge you to write against the codifying of NSA's current practices under the Feinstein-Chambliss bill and to add your endorsement to the growing list of lawmakers and privacy and civil liberties advocates who support the USA FREEDOM Act.

 

We welcome your questions as well as your support.  If you would like to discuss the new USA FREEDOM Act, or other issues related to civil liberties, NSA surveillance, the Patriot Act, FISA, or the FISA Court, please contact Katherine E. Stern, our counsel on government surveillance issues, at 202-580-6928, kstern@constitutionproject.org or Larry Akey, our Communications Director, at 202-580-6922, lakey@constitutionproject.org.

 

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About The Constitution Project

Created out of the belief that we must cast aside the labels that divide us in order to keep our democracy strong, The Constitution Project (TCP) brings together policy experts and legal practitioners from across the political spectrum to foster consensus-based solutions to the most difficult constitutional challenges of our time.  TCP seeks to reform the nation's broken criminal justice system and to strengthen the rule of law through scholarship, advocacy, policy reform and public education initiatives. Established in 1997, TCP is based in Washington, D.C.