May 22, 2014

Wyden Opposes Watered-Down House USA Freedom Act

Recent Changes Leave Bill Short of Meaningful Reform

Washington, D.C.  – Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., issued the following statement on the U.S. House passage of its version of the USA Freedom Act:

“I am gravely concerned that the changes that have been made to the House version of this bill have watered it down so far that it fails to protect Americans from suspicionless mass surveillance.  The new text of the bill states that the government must use a 'selection term' to collect Americans’ records, but the bill’s definition of a “selection term” is so vague that it could be used to collect all of the phone records in a particular area code, or all of the credit card records from a particular state. 

While this bill’s authors may not intend for it to be interpreted so broadly, the Executive Branch’s long track record of secretly interpreting surveillance laws in incredibly broad ways makes it clear that vague language is ineffective in restraining the Executive Branch.  Given the Executive Branch’s record of consistently making inaccurate public statements about these laws in order to conceal ongoing dragnet surveillance of Americans, it would be naïve to trust the Executive Branch to apply new surveillance laws with restraint. 

It is unfortunately clear that some of the same officials who were responsible for conducting this dragnet surveillance and misleading the public about it are now working to make sure that any attempt at reform legislation is as limited as possible. 

Fortunately, the Senate version of the USA Freedom Act still contains a strong prohibition against bulk collection, as well as a number of other important reforms.  In particular, it would close the “back-door searches” loophole that allows intelligence agencies to deliberately read Americans’ emails without a warrant, and it would reform the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court and install an advocate to argue for Americans’ constitutional rights when that court is considering major questions of law.  While I must oppose the House-passed version of the USA Freedom Act, I will continue to work with my colleagues to advance the Senate version of this legislation, and deliver the comprehensive reforms that the American people deserve.”