surveillance

Senate to Debate Surveillance Legislation Backed by Major Tech Companies This Week

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On Tuesday, the US Senate Senate will begin debating and amending the USA Freedom Act, a bipartisan bill authored by Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy and Republican Jim Sensenbrenner designed to put limits on mass government surveillance.

The USA Freedom Act was passed through the House of Representatives in May in light of government surveillance practices made known publicly by Edward Snowden,

Privacy advocates and technology groups championed the bill originally but some revoked their support after compromises expanded the definition of what data the government can collect.

After weeks of analysis, Internet advocacy group the Electronic Frontier Foundation has come out in support of the current incarnation of the bill.

The group notes that the legislation could substantially improve America’s laws regarding mass surveillance with its statutory limits on mass surveillance by the National Security Agency (NSA). They note that it will also appears to bring more transparency to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Court (FISA court) with the addition of a special advocate to protect civil liberties in the FISA court, and new reporting around surveillance that forces the NSA disclose how many people are actually being surveilled under its programs.

The EFF notes, however, that it’s a preliminary step in addressing the problems in Internet surveillance. The bill does not address NSA’s programs to develop its own methods to cracking encryption standards, reported by ProPublica. It also doesn’t effectively address the collection of information on people outside of the U.S., nor does it limit the government’s ability to secretly intercept unencrypted packets passing between private data centers.

Major tech companies that handle and host data on the web have been majorly affected by government surveillance because, as companies that, it undermines consumer trust in the services they provide. Major tech companies including Apple, Dropbox, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Twitter, and Yahoo, been cooperating on a new campaign which began last year called “Reform Government Surveillance”, which is aimed at curbing unconstitutional government surveillance.

RGS has been pleading to senators to support the bill. On Sunday it sent an open letter to senators, stating: “We urge you to pass the bill, ‪which both protects national security and reaffirms America’s commitment to the freedoms we all cherish.”

According to an Ars Technica report, senators could be voting on the legislation as soon as this week.

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About the Author

David Hamilton is a technology journalist and Contributing Editor of the WHIR. Based in Toronto, David has covered the hosting industry internationally for the WHIR with particular attention to innovative hosting solutions and the issues facing the industry. He has written for the National Post and other news outlets, and is a graduate of Queen’s University and the Humber College School of Media Studies.

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