A group of major tech companies announced its support for the new NSA reform bill introduced by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt) on Tuesday. Reform Government Surveillance, an organization created by tech companies specifically to push for NSA surveillance reform, responded positively to the USA Freedom Act, as the new bill is titled. RGS is made up of Google, Apple, Facebook, Microsoft, Twitter, AOL, Yahoo, LinkedIn and Dropbox.
“This bill will help restore trust in the Internet by ending the government’s bulk Internet metadata collection and increasing transparency around U.S. surveillance practices,” the group said in a statement.
It’s quite an improvement from the group’s response to the version of the bill passed by the House of Representatives, which the group alleged left unaddressed some serious problems they had with the NSA and its practices.
“[T]he version that just passed the House of Representatives could permit bulk collection of Internet “metadata” (e.g. who you email and who emails you), something that the Administration and Congress said they intended to end,” the group wrote in a letter to the Senate last month. “Moreover, while the House bill permits some transparency, it is critical to our customers that the bill allow companies to provide even greater detail about the number and type of government requests they receive for customer information.”
The Senate bill on the other hand, would stop bulk data collection and make the requirements for collecting and looking at surveillance data more stringent. It would create a special advocate position in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court and raise the bar for evidence before performing surveillance. It would also end the metadata collection from phone calls, one of the first and biggest stories to come out of former NSA contractor Edward Snowden’s leaks.
“If enacted, this bill would represent the most significant reform of government surveillance authorities since Congress passed the USA PATRIOT Act 13 years ago,” Leahy said in a statement. “This is an historic opportunity, and I am grateful that the bill has the support of the administration, a wide range of privacy and civil liberties groups, and the technology industry.”
As Leahy noted, he got plenty of input from a wide range of stakeholders while putting the bill together. As it is, the bill has support from consumer and civil liberties groups like the ACLU and the Information Technology Industry Council, many of whom had denounced the House bill as too watered down to be at all effective.
There’s going to be plenty of debate in the Senate before the bill is voted on, but it may carry some bipartisan support from Republicans like Rand Paul who have spoken out against NSA surveillance. Of course, even if it passes the Senate, it will have to deal with the House before becoming law. How much compromise there can be between the two versions of the bill before it loses the support of RGS and other groups will be a tricky line for supportive lawmakers to find. Still, there’s no denying that the bill is great news for tech companies who have been loud advocates of NSA reform.