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Tech coalition including Microsoft, Apple, and Google presses attack on the Patriot Act

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Advocacy groups, major tech companies, and a coalition of huge firms including Google, Microsoft, and Apple have sent a letter to the Obama administration urging it to decisively end the NSA's bulk collection of metadata, which expires June 1st as part of Section 215 of the Patriot Act. Obama has already urged Congress to develop a new framework for handling metadata, proposing that telecom companies hang onto the records and only hand them over when law enforcement receives a court order. That proposal was made a year ago. If Congress wants to keep allowing the government to access these records — and, yeah, it probably does — it'll have to act within the next several months.

"There must be a strong, clear, and effective end to bulk collection practices."

"There must be a strong, clear, and effective end to bulk collection practices under the USA Patriot Act, including under the Section 215 records authority and Section 214 authority regarding pen registers and trap & trace devices," the companies write in the letter, which was sent today and signed by nearly four dozen groups. "Any collection that does occur under those authorities should have appropriate safeguards in place to protect privacy and users' rights." Other signatories of the letter include Wikimedia, Mozilla, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Public Knowledge, Silent Circle, the ACLU, and CloudFlare.

Congress started moving toward reform last year, but its efforts have failed so far. The House passed the USA Freedom Act, which would have ended the government's bulk metadata collection and instead had phone companies handle it, like the president requested. The Senate, however, failed to pass a companion bill. What happens in the next few months will be critical for the state of surveillance — the last time Section 215 was authorized, it was cleared for four more years. There's some concern that the Patriot Act may still allow ongoing metadata collection to continue even if the act sunsets, but the administration has said that it doesn't plan on continuing the program if that happens.

The text of the letter is below:

We the undersigned represent a wide range of privacy and human rights advocates, technology companies, and trade associations that hold an equally wide range of positions on the issue of surveillance reform. Many of us have differing views on exactly what reforms must be included in any bill reauthorizing USA PATRIOT Act Section 215, which currently serves as the legal basis for the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of telephone metadata and is set to expire on June 1, 2015. That said, our broad, diverse, and bipartisan coalition believes that the status quo is untenable and that it is urgent that Congress move forward with reform.

Together, we agree that the following elements are essential to any legislative or Administration effort to reform our nation’s surveillance laws:

• There must be a clear, strong, and effective end to bulk collection practices under the USA PATRIOT Act, including under the Section 215 records authority and the Section 214 authority regarding pen registers and trap & trace devices. Any collection that does occur under those authorities should have appropriate safeguards in place to protect privacy and users’ rights.

• The bill must contain transparency and accountability mechanisms for both government and company reporting, as well as an appropriate declassification regime for Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court decisions.

We believe addressing the above must be a part of any reform package, though there are other reforms that our groups and companies would welcome, and in some cases, believe are essential to any legislation. We also urge Congress to avoid adding new mandates that are controversial and could derail reform efforts.

It has been nearly two years since the first news stories revealed the scope of the United States’ surveillance and bulk collection activities. Now is the time to take on meaningful legislative reforms to the nation’s surveillance programs that maintain national security while preserving privacy, transparency, and accountability. We strongly encourage both the White House and Members of Congress to support the above reforms and oppose any efforts to enact any legislation that does not address them.