CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — In response to the substantially underwhelming version of the USA Freedom Act passed by the House Judiciary Committee, John Whitehead, founder and president of The Rutherford Institute, is calling on other members of Congress to resolve the shortcomings of the bill and assure that the bulk collection of American communications by the NSA be halted once and for all. The USA Freedom Act, a reform bill which was originally designed to rein in NSA surveillance of American citizens, was substantially altered from its first draft, and the resultant legislation working its way through Congress does not provide any substantial changes to the NSA’s surveillance scheme. In calling on members of Congress to resolve the issue while public opinion is on their side, Whitehead has offered a number of suggested revisions to the USA Freedom Act, including increasing transparency in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, ending the bulk collection of Americans’ communications data, and ending so-called “back door” collection of information on American citizens.
“The USA Freedom Act which passed through the Judiciary committee and substituted the original version represents a significant retreat from the steps proposed by the original legislation. To dilute the original USAFA for the sake of expediency or political compromise at a time when there is significant public support for and political momentum in favor of true reforms on the ability of the government to spy on its citizens is foolhardy and unwise, given that such an opportunity may not present itself again,” stated John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute and author of A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State. “If we are to have any hope of true reform, Congress must take immediate action to rein in the government’s Orwellian programs by adopting legislation even more comprehensive than the original USAFA.”
In the weeks after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the NSA began a program of collecting telephone call records in bulk. After continuing the program without judicial authorization, in 2006, the government sought and obtained authorization from the FISC, a special court established to consider government applications for surveillance of foreign agents and which conducts its activities largely in secret. The 2006 order, which has been renewed several times since, allows the NSA to collect “telephony metadata,” which includes the telephone numbers placing and receiving the call, the date, time and duration of the call, and other session-identifying information, and applies to every call placed or received within the United States. The government retains this information and has the ability to conduct computer analysis to determine patterns of behavior that can reveal personal information about citizens. The program remained secret until June 2013 when information leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden was made public.
In response to public outrage over the NSA surveillance program, and due to the courts unwillingness to prevent this pervasive invasion of privacy by the government, a legislative solution was demanded by citizens. This took on the form of the USA Freedom Act of 2013, which proposed to stop the bulk collection of data by the government as well as other activities of the government that unreasonably intrude upon the security of citizens. However, the legislation has since taken on an incredibly diluted form which does nothing to stop the mass surveillance of American citizens. As such, attorneys for The Rutherford Institute are calling on members of Congress to strengthen the legislation in order to rein in the bulk collection of American communications by the NSA. Institute attorneys are also offering up a historical analysis of the Fourth Amendment and its bearing on the NSA’s surveillance activities.