• COMMENTARY: Privacy Bills Picking Up Steam in Congress

    A number of privacy related bills might be in the mix this summer when Congress has to deal with expiring provisions of the PATRIOT Act.  It makes sense that privacy centered legislation would be on a list of demands from privacy advocates during negotiations on reauthorization of the PATRIOT Act’s most controversial provision allowing mass collection of Americans’ phone and email data.

    Privacy protections are very important political issues since the NSA Spying scandal.

    A number of conservative groups have signed a letter to Chairmen of the House and Senate Judiciary Committees Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) in support of a bill titled the LEADS Act.   This letter might jump start action on a bill that protects privacy rights by providing legal protection for emails over 180 days old.  The legislation also sets forth a mechanism for law enforcement to serve warrants abroad for U.S. persons data.

    The letter makes the case that this legislation will greatly help American business while protecting privacy.  This letter explains “until now, the U.S. Government has relied on the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) to reach data of foreign citizens stored abroad so long as the company storing the data had a presence on U.S. soil. This practice creates distrust of American businesses and encourages foreign citizens, companies and countries to stop doing business with U.S. companies operating overseas. Eventually, this will harm U.S. companies and threaten America’s leadership in cloud computing technology.”

    The LEADS Act will help American innovators greatest technological advancements in cloud computing.

    Some worry that without the LEADS Act, data localization will become the norm.   No LEADS act would encourage foreign copycat companies to take away business from American companies by setting up junior versions of American technology companies.

    Also, expect Congress to take a second look at the USA Freedom Act.  This bill came one vote short of being debated by the Senate last year and a watered down version was considered in the House.  According to the New York Times, the current version of this bill “would reauthorize mass surveillance programs revealed by the former National Security Agency contractor Edward J. Snowden, but impose new limits on them.”

    The Times notes that the bill “does not limit the government’s authority to collect information overseas, including data on telephone and email records” yet it would ban the “bulk collection by the government of ‘metadata’ from domestic and international telephone records.”  This reform would be a good first step to a full restoration of 4thAmendment rights.

    Politico reports “the USA Freedom Act now awaits its chance on the House floor after the chamber’s Judiciary Committee sent it through (last) Thursday on a 25-2 vote. Committee leaders blocked amendments to the surveillance reform bill as members marked it up, Kate reports, citing concerns that changes would impede the delicate compromise reached on the measure.”  If the House can pass this bill, it will get a rough ride in the Senate, where Sens. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Richard Burr (R-NC) have authored a bill that rubber stamps and extends the Obama Administration’s spying program right past the end of this administration.

    Congress would be doing a disservice to all Americans if they allowed President Obama to continue to monitor information about every Americans’ calling patterns in the name of national security.  Reforms are needed and the USA Freedom Act and the LEADS Act are two reforms that should be considered during this debate.

    Cloakroom Confidential

    Cloakroom Confidential was a longtime Capitol Hill staffer and insider who has contacts in the House and Senate at the highest levels.

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