Groups make new push to end surveillance program

A coalition of 37 activist groups is pushing the leaders of the House Judiciary Committee to end the government’s mass phone data collection program, arguing it poses insurmountable threats to the privacy and civil liberties of millions of people.

The letter comes as Congress braces for a battle over the reauthorization of the USA Freedom Act, which is set to expire later this year and gives the government a broad range of surveillance authorities.

The prominent privacy and civil rights organizations made clear they will not support any bill that reauthorizes the call records program and that does not offer “meaningful surveillance reforms.”

Sean Vitka, policy counsel with civil liberties group Demand Progress, told The Hill he hopes the letter will “embolden people who are rightfully concerned about the possible restart of a program that spies on … millions of innocent people.”

He said the groups hope to “make sure people on the Hill know civil society is there and we can’t accept any reauthorization” of the call records program.

So far, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) has not weighed in publicly about where he stands on the USA Freedom Act or the call records program, referred to as Section 215.

“Given the CDR program’s extraordinary breadth, its lack of demonstrated efficacy, and the government’s failure to lawfully implement it, repealing the CDR program is a necessary first step, although not sufficient without other major reforms,” the groups wrote, referring to call detail records (CDR).

Privacy activists have long argued that elements of the USA Freedom Act — which enables the CDR program — should not be reauthorized, including the Section 215 authorities. They say the program has not effectively stopped any terrorist attacks and encroaches on the personal lives of Americans.