US tech giants urge Congress to curb mass digital surveillance

As the date of the expiry of Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act draws near, a wide range of tech companies, privacy advocates, and trade associations have asked the US president, US politicians and prominent government officials to reform US surveillance laws.

Both Section 215, which serves as the legal basis for the NSA’s bulk collection of telephone metadata, and Section 214, which regulates the use of electronic surveillance devices such as pen registers and trap-and-trace devices as approved by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court, are set to expire on June 1, 2015.

In an open letter addressed to the aforementioned individuals in the legislative and executive branches of the US government, the coalition has called for 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,” they noted. “The bill must contain transparency and accountability mechanisms for both government and company reporting, as well as an appropriate declassification regime for Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court decisions.”

“We believe addressing the above must be a part of any reform package, though there are other reforms that our groups and companies would welcome, and in some cases, believe are essential to any legislation. We also urge Congress to avoid adding new mandates that are controversial and could derail reform efforts,” they added.

The letter was signed by nearly 50 civil and digital rights organizations, including the ACLU and the EFF, and companies such as Mozilla, Silent Circle, CloudFlare and, by proxy of the Reform Government Surveillance initiative of which they are members, Google, Apple, Twitter, Microsoft, Yahoo, Facebook, Aol, Dropbox, Evernote and LinkedIn.

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