Drawing the Line on Government Surveillance

Earlier today, eight of the country's leading technology firms unveiled a website and released five principles for regulating online surveillance by governments worldwide. I applaud AOL, Apple, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Twitter, and Yahoo for presenting their case on this very important topic.

The revelations that have come out about the National Security Agency's PRISM program are disturbing. The scale and scope of the collection of information about electronic communications and telephone calls that originate and pass through the United States is truly astounding.

I have long been concerned that the measures put in place in the name of national security could be used to infringe on the civil rights and liberties of Americans. That is why I opposed the USA PATRIOT Act when it was first enacted, and have opposed legislation regarding the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) and the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA). It is vitally important to set reasonable limits on the information being collected to ensure that privacy and civil liberties are preserved in our national security efforts.

The principles put forth by these eight companies are important because they demonstrate that even technology experts from the private sector who have the most intimate knowledge of what is being asked for by these surveillance agencies -- because they are being compelled to cooperate -- have concerns about the programs. These companies have sought to be honest with their customers by providing information detailing the nature of the requests they have received from the government, but they have been prohibited from revealing this information. They have also indicated that NSA accessed data in ways of which they were not even aware.

I agree with these principles, which is why I am an original cosponsor of H.R. 3361, the USA FREEDOM Act, which would enact many of these principles by reining in the dragnet collection of data by the NSA, increasing transparency of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), providing businesses the ability to release information regarding FISA requests, and creating an independent constitutional advocate to argue cases before the FISC.

This legislation would strengthen the prohibition on targeting a foreigner with the goal of obtaining communications involving an American. It reforms the FISC by creating an Office of the Special Advocate (OSA) tasked with promoting privacy interests before the FISA court's closed proceedings, which will have the authority to appeal decisions of the FISA court.

Further, the bill requires the public disclosure of all FISC decisions issued after July 10, 2003, that contain a significant construction or interpretation of law. Under the bill, Internet and telecom companies would be allowed to publicly report an estimate of the number of FISA orders and national security letters received, the number of such orders and letters complied with, and the number of users or accounts on whom information was demanded under the orders and letters. And it adopts a single standard to ensure the Administration doesn't use different authorities to support bulk collection.

Regarding the free flow of information, I recently joined with my colleagues in the Congressional High-Tech Caucus in asking U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman to continue to prioritize cross-border data flows as a key topic in negotiations with other nations. Some in the EU, Asia, and elsewhere have sought to use the revelations about PRISM to promote protectionist data-flow policies that would harm the development of cloud and hamper competition and access to lawfully available information.

I look forward to working with these technology leaders and my colleagues in Congress to enact legislation that reforms and brings accountability and transparency to government surveillance efforts.