Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

The current form of the USA Freedom Act is "ripe for abuse" and will only embolden illegal government surveillance, charges a group of whistleblowers and civil liberties organizations. (Photo: Elvert Barnes)

'More Harm Than Good': Congressional NSA Reforms a Sham, say Critics

Intelligence community whistleblowers and civil liberties groups call on Congressmen to reject 'gutted' USA Freedom Act

Lauren McCauley

The current "gutted" version of the U.S.A. Freedom Act (S. 2685) will only serve to legalize government's currently illegal surveillance of innocent civilians, charged a coalition of whistleblowers and civil liberties organizations in a letter published Monday calling on members of Congress to reject the empty reform.

"Governmental security agencies' zeal for collecting Americans' personal information without regard for cost, efficacy, legality, or public support necessitates that Congress act to protect the rights of residents across the United States and around the globe," writes the group under the banner of the OffNow campaign. The letter is signed by a number of intelligence community whistleblowers, including Thomas Drake and Daniel Ellsburg, as well as over 15 publications and organizations, such as RootsAction.org, CREDO ActionFight for the Future, Restore the Fourth and the Sunlight Foundation.

The U.S.A. Freedom Act, they charge, "is not the substantive reform originally envisioned and supported by the public" after it was introduced to both houses by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) in October 2013. In late May, H.R 3361 passed the House of Representatives—after being heavily marked up by the House Judiciary subcommittee—and moved on to the Senate where it has languished in the Senate Judiciary subcommittee.

In its current form, the group says that the legislation now threatens to embolden the same violations it alleges to deter and has numerous ambiguities which make it "ripe for abuse."

The Act, they write, "legalizes currently illegal surveillance activities, grants immunity to corporations that collaborate to violate privacy rights, reauthorizes the PATRIOT Act for an additional 2.5 years, and fails to reform EO 12333 or Section 702, other authorities used to collect large amounts of information on Americans." 

For some civil liberties groups, including the ACLU and Electronic Frontier Foundation, the bill is a "modest step forward." However, Sean Vitka, federal policy manager for the Sunlight Foundation writes in a blog post that despite its meager reforms, the legislation has "extraordinary potential to create a misleading view of what is going on behind closed doors and in secret courts."

"The Intelligence Community’s past approach to ambiguous and weak laws underscore that this one threatens to do more harm than good," Vitka argues.

The OffNow coalition is calling on people to add their names to the letter and to contact their local representative to voice opposition to its passage.


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

House Democrats Request 'Damage Assessment' Following Recovery of Classified Docs

"Former President Trump's conduct has potentially put our national security at grave risk," Reps. Carolyn Maloney and Adam Schiff wrote to Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines.

Kenny Stancil ·


Violent Threats Against FBI Soar as Trump Lies About Mar-a-Lago Search

Menacing messages posted online "include a threat to place a so-called dirty bomb in front of FBI Headquarters" and "general calls for 'civil war' and 'armed rebellion,'" officials warned.

Kenny Stancil ·


'Biggest Win for Tax Fairness' in Decades: Progressives Cheer Reforms in IRA, Demand More

"While this bill establishes desperately needed changes to our tax laws and IRS funding, it is still a far cry from the systemic changes that we need in our society to rectify the hold the rich still have on every level of our economy."

Kenny Stancil ·


'Care Can't Wait': IRA a Good Start, Progressives Say, But More Is Needed

"Americans deserve a full loaf of bread," said health justice advocate Ady Barkan.

Kenny Stancil ·


'I'm Back': Fetterman Returns to Campaign Trail Following May Stroke

"I'm not only grateful to be alive, but also for the campaign we're building together," said the Democratic nominee for Pennsylvania's open U.S. Senate seat.

Kenny Stancil ·

Common Dreams Logo