Progressive Change Institute and Massive Coalition of Advocates Come Out in Opposition to USA Freedom Act

Today, the Progressive Change Institute and a trans-partisan coalition of surveillance whistleblowers, civil liberties advocates, and organizations representing millions of Americans are urging Congress to reject the Senate version of the USA Freedom Act.

The civil liberties coalition’s joint letter outlines numerous concerns with the legislation, including ambiguous language that is open to abuse, the failure to include provisions specifically protecting the rights of Americans, blanket legal immunity for corporations that help spy on Americans, and the reauthorization of key sections of the USA PATRIOT Act relating to intelligence gathering. As the coalition’s letter states:

“As long as S. 2685 contains ambiguous language that can be abused by the Intelligence Community and lacks language that clearly protects innocent Americans, we believe that focusing on USA PATRIOT Act reauthorization next year, remedies in the courts, aggressive confirmation hearings for personnel, and defunding of Intelligence Agencies are more constructive paths forward.”

Stephanie Taylor, Progressive Change co-founder stated, “Congress needs to act decisively to end dragnet spying on Americans and restore the rights of the American people, but the USA Freedom Act is not the answer. Despite its ironic name, the bill doesn’t address the severity of the problem — and could even open the door to further abuse of Americans’ rights.”

While some civil liberties organizations have expressed support for Senator Patrick Leahy’s version of the USA Freedom Act, a spokesperson for the coalition said that the dangers posed by the bill outweigh the possible positives, especially considering wide-ranging interpretations of some of the language the bill contains.

“We’re not saying that anyone’s interpretations are wrong, just that this bill can be interpreted in numerous different ways, which has previously proven to be a major problem. Our issue is not just that the bill fails to stop many kind of abuses, but that it can be interpreted as actually authorizing more aggressive spying on us than ever before — and if civil liberties groups disagree on the interpretation of this bill, imagine what the NSA’s interpretations will look like,” stated Sascha Meinrath, an Internet culture leader and community Internet pioneer.

The coalition also expressed grave reservations about reauthorizing provisions of the Patriot Act for two years.

“In many ways, the Patriot Act is the root of the problem. It created the framework for today’s unwarranted spying and rampant violations of basic privacy rights. Trying to reform the NSA while simply extending these provisions in the Patriot Act for two more years — and with no debate — is a little like slapping a Band-Aid over an amputation,” said Brian Sonenstein of Firedoglake.com.

Signatories also include prominent Intelligence Community whistleblowers William Binney, Thomas Drake, Daniel Ellsberg, and Mark Klein.

Klein blew the whistle on NSA surveillance conducted by AT&T nearly a decade ago.

Klein stated, “The bill tinkers around the edges of the phone call records collection while leaving untouched the core of these surveillance programs: the vast, unconstitutional dragnet collection of internet data which I helped expose. To top it off, the bill now includes the renewal of the Patriot Act, thereby institutionalizing the entire monstrous apparatus.”

Organizations joining the coalition in opposition to the USA Freedom Act include the Progressive Change Institute, Campaign for Liberty, CREDO Action, Emptywheel, Fight for the Future, Firedoglake, OffNow, Participatory Politics Foundation, Progressive Change Institute, Restore The Fourth, RootsAction.org, Tenth Amendment Center, The Rhode Island Coalition to Defend, Human and Civil Rights, The Sunlight Foundation, and ThoughtWorks.