'This Must End Now': Web Companies, Rights Groups Call for Immediate Halt to Bulk Data Collection

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'This Must End Now': Web Companies, Rights Groups Call for Immediate Halt to Bulk Data Collection

In letter sent to President Obama and other officials, coalition demands urgent reform to US Patriot Act

Demanding immediate reforms to government surveillance authorization, diverse coalition says, "the status quo is untenable." (Photo: Lotus Carroll/cc/flickr)

Demanding immediate reforms to government surveillance authorization, diverse coalition says, "the status quo is untenable." (Photo: Lotus Carroll/cc/flickr)

More than 50 technology companies, privacy and human rights advocates on Wednesday sent a letter (pdf) to U.S. President Barack Obama, members of Congress, and other executive  and intelligence officials demanding immediate curbs to government surveillance and an end to the bulk collection of citizens' communications under the U.S. Patriot Act.

"It has been nearly two years since the first news stories revealed the scope of the United States’ surveillance and bulk collection activities. Now is the time to take on meaningful legislative reforms to the nation’s surveillance programs that maintain national security while preserving privacy, transparency, and accountability," reads the letter.

The diverse coalition—which includes groups such as the Brennan Center for Justice, Mozilla, Center for Media and Technology, Wikimedia Foundation, the American Civil Liberties Union and the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee—notes that, while there are "differing views on exactly what reforms must be included," there is widespread agreement on a few key measures.

Namely, the group is calling for "a clear, strong, and effective end to bulk collection practices" under the Patriot Act, enforceable transparency and accountability mechanisms for both the government and private company reporting of data collection, and a plan for declassifying Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court decisions.

With key provisions of the Patriot Act expiring on June 1, the push for action comes ahead of a looming deadline for legislative action, when Congress breaks for Memorial Day recess on May 21. The coalition is asking that these authorities, particularly Sections 215 and 214, not be renewed without strong, meaningful reforms. 

"Our broad, diverse, and bipartisan coalition believes that the status quo is untenable and that it is urgent that Congress move forward with reform," the letter continues. Individuals can add their name to the letter, addressed to House and Senate leadership, here.

In a blog post on Wednesday, Amie Stepanovich, U.S. policy manager for the digital rights group Access, another signatory of the letter, said that ending bulk collection under Sections 215 and 214 "is necessary in order to ensure that hundreds of millions of innocent users aren’t caught in a surveillance dragnet that would provide the government a continuing series of snapshots of the most intimate details of their private lives."

Also noting that additional reforms are important in order to protect the rights of both U.S. citizens and the global community, Stepanovich said, "It is hard to see how such a program can exist in a democratic government—it must end now." 

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