The Battle to Retake Our Privacy Can Be Won in the Halls of Congress – Really!

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The Guardian

The Battle to Retake Our Privacy Can Be Won in the Halls of Congress – Really!

Given the NSA's talent for distorting the plain meaning of the English language, it's always possible the agency will find a way to subvert the will of the people it allegedly serves. But a bill could get to Obama's desk soon. (Photo illustration: DonkeyHotey / Flickr via Creative Commons)

After months of inaction – and worries that real change at the National Security Agency was indefinitely stalled – there was a flurry of action in Congress this week on the most promising NSA reform bill, as the USA Freedom Act unanimously passed out of the House Judiciary Committee and then, surprisingly, out of the Intelligence Committee, too. Only its movement came at a price: the bill is now much weaker than it was before.

What would the legislation actually do? Well, for one, it would take the giant phone records database out of the NSA's hands and put it into those of the telecom companies, and force judicial review. Importantly, it doesn't categorically make anything worse – like the House Intel bill pushed by Rep Mike Rogers would have – and it would at least end the phone records program as it exists today, while making things a little bit better for transparency.

However, anytime Rogers calls a bill "a great improvement", anyone who values privacy should be worries. The transparency section of the bill doesn't require nearly as much disclosure as it did previously, and there's no longer a full-time privacy advocate for the Fisa court in there – only the chance for outsiders to submit legal briefs. Plus, the "mandatory" declassification of Fisa court opinions now only "encourages" the executive branch to be forthcoming – a policy which the ace surveillance-law analyst Marcy Wheeler described as follows: "it only releases opinions if Edward Snowden comes along and leaks them."

Read the rest of this article at The Guardian.

Trevor Timm

Trevor Timm is a co-founder and the executive director of the Freedom of the Press Foundation. He is a writer, activist, and legal analyst who specializes in free speech and government transparency issues. He writes a weekly column for The Guardian and has also contributed to The Atlantic, Al Jazeera, Foreign Policy, Harvard Law and Policy Review, PBS MediaShift, and Politico. Follow him on Twitter: @TrevorTimm