The House is scheduled to vote this week on a bill reauthorizing the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act for another five years. The vote is scheduled despite complaints from Democrats at a hearing in May that they still have little information to evaluate the program that allows the government to intercept phone calls, emails and online communications. CCIA believes that developments since FISA’s initial passage justify a thorough review of the law’s utilization, benefits and impact on citizens.
When Congress passed FISA in 2008, giving them sweeping new powers to surveil electronic communications of Americans’ international communications, the bill contained some checks and balances including a requirement that the DOJ issue semi-annual reports to Congress on how the government has implemented the law and complied with restrictions designed to reduce the risk of civil liberties violations.
Some members of Congress have been trying to get basic information on the program ahead of FISA’s renewal, including how many Americans have been targets of the law. So far, Congressman John Conyers, D-Mich., Congressman Jerold Nadler, D-NY and Congressman Bobby Scott, D-Va., offered amendments to improve the bill, but it passed the House Judiciary Committee in May without those provisions. In addition, since then both parties have included Internet freedom provisions in their party platforms and have spoken out against government overreach after the failed SOPA bill. We hope others on a bipartisan basis will not rush to judgment on FISA ratification.
Given the breadth of Internet-related issues from data retention to the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, Congress needs to be looking at the principles behind these issues holistically and be taking careful, informed action with regard to the Internet instead of legislating in the dark.
The Computer & Communications Industry Association has long advocated for Internet openness and freedom and using the Internet as a tool for enhancing democracy, rather than spying. The following can be attribute to CCIA President & CEO Ed Black:
“CCIA joins members of Congress, privacy advocates and others calling for more information about the scope and operation of the FISA program. It’s important for Congress and citizens to understand how these government surveillance powers are being used and how well the DOJ is following measures within the law to protect basic rights and freedoms. It makes little sense to rubber stamp a program ahead of having the information needed to review it – that’s why we have this review and renewal period.
“Much has happened since Congress approved surveillance in 2008. The protests over the SOPA bill showed that people deeply care about their privacy and freedom online. Both parties put Internet freedom in their platforms and Republicans even added that personal data should receive full constitutional protection from government overreach.
“No one will know if we have overreach or not as the implementation of this law has remained so shrouded in secrecy. Without more information, it’s hard to evaluate and weigh the possible benefits of FISA versus the threat to the civil liberties and Constitutional rights of Americans.
“As the US tries to head off greater international control over Internet communications, it has to be especially careful about the precedents we set in spying on our citizens. We believe it is possible to protect the nation and still protect the principles of freedom that make the nation so worth protecting.”