The Center for National Security Studies supports the usa freedom Act, S

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Kate Martin

The Center for National Security Studies supports the USA Freedom Act, S. 2685.

The revised bill introduced by Senator Leahy and others July 29, 2014 would implement President Obama’s promise in January 2014 to end the NSA’s bulk collection of Americans’ telephone metadata under section 215/section 501 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.  The bill would also restrict collection of such information under national security letter authorities or foreign intelligence pen register/trap and trace authorities.  While such limitations are only a first step in restoring constitutional limits on the government’s collection of information on Americans, it is a historic step in recalibrating the excessive government surveillance initiated after the attacks of 9/11.

We applaud the Obama administration for agreeing to these common-sense reforms and recognizing that national security objectives can be met through a more tailored and constitutionally appropriate surveillance program than what it has been using.  The bill contains potentially ground-breaking requirements that the government destroy information swept up in collection that is not related to the purpose of the collection.  At the same time, given the findings of the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board that the NSA has not been destroying information as it was supposed to, the Congress will have to be vigilant to ensure that such destruction requirements are in fact followed.

The bill also brings an important and necessary measure of transparency to at least some of the government’s foreign intelligence surveillance programs that collect information on Americans.  We commend the administration for recognizing that the absolute secrecy concerning the impact of its broad surveillance programs on Americans that it zealously defended pre-Snowden is neither necessary nor wise.  In particular, we support the provision that would require the government to report the number of individuals whose information has been collected under various authorities.  Such information is critically necessary to enable the American public to understand the scope of national security surveillance and to be able to have a public national debate on its costs and effectiveness. Even before passage of the bill, the administration should disclose whether the Justice Department has opined that other statutory authorities – not now addressed in the USA Freedom Act – could authorize the NSA’s bulk collection. Without this knowledge, we can’t be certain whether the proposed amendments to section 501 (215) will in fact be sufficient to prohibit the NSA from engaging in bulk collection of metadata using some other hitherto unidentified authority. See our blog post on Just Security.

The Center for National Security Studies also commends the commitments by Senator Leahy and other co-sponsors to continue reform efforts.  In the near term, the Center calls on the Congress and the administration to ban the intelligence agencies from using a U.S. person identifier to query information collected under section 702 unless there is an outstanding warrant for collection on that person or emergency circumstances.  In the longer term, the Center calls on the Congress to establish a mechanism to systematically examine domestic surveillance authorities as a whole.  

For more information, please contact Kate Martin, 202 721 5650,; or Joe Onek at

1730 Pennsylvania Ave NW, 7th Floor, Washington, D.C. 20006

tel: (202) 721-5650 fax: (202) 530-0128

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