OTI Welcomes Senate USA Liberty Act Which Significantly Improves Upon House Bill

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Yesterday, Senators Leahy and Lee Introduced an improved version of the USA Liberty Act (S.2158) as a companion to Representatives Goodlatte and Conyers’ bill in the House of Representatives (H.R. 3989) to reform and reauthorize Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Section 702 permits the government to collect the content of communications of targets who are non-Americans located abroad, including communications they may have with Americans. New America’s Open Technology Institute (OTI) supports the bill, which would reauthorize Section 702 for six years and make important reforms, such as:

  • Close the so-called “backdoor search loophole” by requiring the government to obtain a warrant based on probable cause in order to access or share the contents of Americans’ communications that were incidentally collected under Section 702, regardless of the purpose of the search or the agency conducting it, thus expanding and strengthening the warrant requirement as compared to the House bill;

  • Codify the end to upstream “about” collection, similar to how the House bill does. The end of “about” collection is significant because this process included collecting communications between two non-targets that are only “about” a target, and thus greatly increased the risk of collection of communications of innocent Americans; and

  • Increase government transparency around minimization and targeting procedures, and require more granular reporting on the Section 702’s privacy impact, including an estimate to Congress of the number of Americans’ communications collected, like the House bill does.

The following statement can be attributed to Robyn Greene, policy counsel and government affairs lead at New America’s Open Technology Institute:

“The Senate USA Liberty Act is a meaningful reform bill that represents a reasonable compromise to address the concerns of both the privacy community and the intelligence community. Its approach to closing the backdoor search loophole is far superior to the House Judiciary Committee’s version. Put simply, it would stop the warrantless searches of the contents of Americans’ communications that are swept up under Section 702. The Senate USA Liberty Act provides a good path forward for Congress to both reauthorize Section 702 and increase protections for Americans' privacy.”

OTI did not support or oppose the House version of the USA Liberty Act (H.R. 3989). Our statement on that bill as reported out of the House Judiciary Committee is here. Our statement supporting the USA Rights Act (S. 1997), introduced by Senators Wyden and Paul, is here. Our statement strongly opposing the Senate Intelligence Committee’s bill, the FISA Amendments Reauthorization Act (S. 2010), is here.

OTI’s chart comparing the House’s USA Liberty Act to the USA Rights Act and the FISA Amendments Reauthorization Act is here. It will be updated to include the Senate bill soon.