CCIA, Civil Rights Groups Object To Intelligence Provision Requiring Companies To Report Suspicious Activity To Law Enforcement

BY Bijan Madhani
August 5, 2015

Washington — The Computer & Communications Industry Association joined civil rights and free speech advocates in a letter expressing concern that broad language in a provision in the Senate version of the Intelligence Authorization Act of 2015.  The provision would require online communications services to report potential terrorist activity, and could subject many innocent people to government investigation.

Section 603 would create an obligation for all providers of Internet communications services to make a report to government authorities when they obtain “actual knowledge” of apparent “terrorist activity” on their services.

In the letter to Senate leaders, the groups warn that Section 603 is unlikely to be effective. Reporting pursuant to a vague definition of “terrorist activity” will likely bring innocent people under the scrutiny of the U.S. government, through a process with few limitations on the use of shared information or other safeguards.

CCIA is concerned that the vagueness of the reporting requirements will chill speech and leave providers in the untenable position of making substantive determinations about the contents of vast quantities of online communications.  Online service providers, erring on the side of caution, will generate too many false leads for law enforcement, while truly bad actors would likely switch to offshore services that would not be subject to this additional reporting obligation.

Ultimately, the vague, over-inclusive reporting requirement would also further damage the already weakened trust of the global Internet community in the products and services of U.S. digital providers, and provide little in the way of useful information for law enforcement purposes.  For these reasons, we urge the Senate to reject the inclusion of Section 603 in the Intelligence Authorization Act.

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