The gutted version of the USA Freedom Act that passed the House would fail to bring transparency to the federal government’s surveillance activities. That is, unless, the Senate restores key provisions. Senators Al Franken (D-MN) and Dean Heller (R-NV) wrote to president Obama urging him to support provisions similar to those in their bipartisan bill, the Surveillance Tranparency Act. Specifically, they aim to incorporate measures into the USA Freedom Act that would:
- Force the government to release the rough number of Americans who have had their information collected and reviewed
- Give companies greater flexibility to disclose how many customers were caught up in government surveillance requests
The original version of the USA Freedom Act would have accomplished these goals, in addition to ending bulk collection of phone records, but the House Rules Committee rendered the bill weak and ineffective. And even if the NSA did—or, more likely, was forced to—reform its practices, Americans couldn’t possibly know it for sure without transparency. To be clear, Franken and Heller’s bill wouldn’t alter the legality of NSA snooping, but it would at least shine light on the practice. As they explain in their letter to Obama:
Congress gave broad power to the intelligence community precisely because it was targeting our foreign enemies – not American citizens on American soil. When foreign intelligence powers are used to collect the information of American citizens, Americans deserve to know it.
Newly inaugurated Obama once said, “Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency.” It is not too late to make that a reality.