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  • Intelligence Director Says NSA Access to Bulk Phone Record Data Will End: The Director of National Intelligence announced today that the NSA analysis of "section 215" telephone records previously gathered will end when the USA FREEDOM Act goes into effect on November 29, 2015. Earlier this month, the U.S. Surveillance Court ruled that the NSA could continue collecting records during a 180 day transition period, despite an earlier decision finding the program was unlawful. In 2012, EPIC testified before the House Judiciary Committee on the need to reform the Surveillance Court. In 2013, EPIC filed a petition in the Supreme Court, In re EPIC, arguing that the NSA program was unlawful. In 2014, EPIC and a broad coalition urged the President to end the NSA surveillance program. (Jul. 27, 2015)
  • Surveillance Court Ignores Court Ruling, Reauthorizes NSA Bulk Collection Program: The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court has reauthorized the collection of domestic telephone records for 180 days. The Surveillance Court ignored the recent decision of the Federal Court of Appeals, which held that the NSA bulk collection program is unlawful. In 2012, EPIC testified before the House Judiciary Committee on the need to reform the Surveillance Court. In 2013, EPIC filed a petition in the Supreme Court, In re EPIC, arguing that the NSA program was unlawful. In 2014, EPIC and a broad coalition urged the President to end the NSA surveillance program. Congress then passed the Freedom Act to end program, but the FISC didn't get the memo. (Jul. 1, 2015)
  • Senate Passes FREEDOM Act, Ends NSA Bulk Collection: The Senate has passed the USA FREEDOM Act, sponsored by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Senator Mike Lee (R-TX). The Act, which the President is expected to sign, ends the NSA bulk collection of domestic telephone records and establishes new transparency and accountability rules for the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. In 2012, EPIC testified before the House Judiciary Committee on the need to reform the Surveillance Court. In 2013, EPIC filed a petition in the Supreme Court, In re EPIC, arguing that the NSA program was unlawful. In 2014, EPIC and a broad coalition urged the President to end the NSA surveillance program. (Jun. 2, 2015)
  • Senate to Debate End of PATRIOT Act: The Senate convenes today for a rare Sunday session. Senators will consider whether to renew key provisions of the PATRIOT Act, including the NSA bulk collection program, due to expire tonight. Senator Rand Paul has said he will oppose any renewal. Also under consideration is the FREEDOM Act, sponsored by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Senator Mike Lee (R-TX). In 2013, EPIC filed a petition in the Supreme Court, In re EPIC, supported by experts, scholars, and members of the Church Committee, arguing that the NSA program was unlawful. In 2014, EPIC and a broad coalition urged the President to end the program. The Sunday debate will be broadcast live on CSPAN2 at 4 pm EDT. (May. 31, 2015)
  • Inspector General Warns: Significant Oversight of Section 215 Required: The DOJ's Office of the Inspector General released a report this month detailing the FBI's use of Section 215 and warning that "significant oversight" is required. The Inspector General describes the FBI's expanding use of 215 to collect electronic information in bulk and criticized the agency for taking seven years to develop minimization procedures. The Second Circuit ruled the NSA's telephone record collection program exceeded the legal authority under Section 215. EPIC previously petitioned the Supreme Court to suspend the program. Unless Congress votes to reauthorize or modify the authority, Section 215 is set to expire on June 1. (May. 21, 2015)
  • EPIC, Coalition to President: No Encryption Backdoors: EPIC and a coalition of civil society organizations and security experts urged President Obama to reject proposal to weaken encryption used in U.S. products. Administration officials, including FBI Director Comey, have advocated for broken encryption to enable law enforcement access to private communications. The letter details how weakened encryption undermines cybersecurity and economic security. EPIC previously led the effort to oppose the "Clipper Chip," the NSA's proposal for key escrow encryption that would have severely crippled the privacy and security of online communication. EPIC also recently expressed support for encryption and anonymity in a letter to a UN Rapporteur. (May. 20, 2015)
  • Federal Appeals Court Strikes Down NSA Bulk Record Collection Program: The Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled today that the NSA's telephone record collection program exceeds legal authority. The government claimed that it could collect all records under the Section 215 "relevance" standard. But the court rejected that argument and held that "such an expansive concept of 'relevance' is unprecedented and unwarranted." The conclusion mirrors the argument EPIC, and a coalition of technical expert, legal scholars, and former members of the Church Committee made in Petition to the Supreme Court in 2013. EPIC explained in its petition, "It is simply not possible that every phone record in the possession of a telecommunications firm could be relevant to an authorized investigation." The Second Circuit found that Section 215 does not "authorize anything approaching the breadth of the sweeping surveillance at issue here." (May. 7, 2015)
  • House Committee Approves Surveillance Reform Bill: The House Judiciary Committee voted to send the USA FREEDOM Act of 2015 to the House of Representatives for further consideration prior to the June 1 Patriot Act expiration deadline. The bill would end the NSA's controversial domestic telephone record collection program. The bill would also establish new transparency requirements for Intelligence Court Orders, recommended by EPIC in testimony before the House Judiciary Committee. EPIC also opposed renewal of the NSA's Section 215 orders and petitioned the Supreme Court to suspend the program. (May. 1, 2015)
  • Senator McConnell Seeks Renewal of NSA Bulk Collection Program: Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell has introduced a bill that would extend the Patriot Act until 2020. Specifically, S. 1035 would renew the controversial Section 215 authorities for the NSA's telephone record collection program. The 215 authority is set to expire on June 1. EPIC urged the President and the Attorney General not to renew the 215 order after it became clear that the NSA routinely collected the telephone records of US citizens. EPIC previously petitioned the Supreme Court to suspend the program, arguing that the NSA program exceeded the section 215 legal authority. (Apr. 23, 2015)
  • European Court of Justice Hears Case Challenging "Safe Harbor" Agreement and NSA Spying: The Court of Justice for the European Union heard arguments this week in Maximilian Schrems v. Data Protection Commissioner, a case filed in Ireland following the revelations of the NSA PRISM program. At issue is whether the disclosure of EU citizens' data by Facebook and other Internet companies to the NSA violates the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, and whether the EU-US "Safe Harbor" agreement provides "adequate" data protection. A decision is likely later this year. Schrems is the recipient of the 2013 EPIC International Privacy Champion Award. (Mar. 24, 2015)

Background

On the evening of June 5, 2013, The Guardian began publishing stories based on internal government documents disclosed by former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden. The first story published by The Guardian described the NSA’s bulk metadata collection program, which has since been the subject of numerous lawsuits, government reports, and surveillance reform proposals. Under the Bulk Metadata Program, authorized by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, Verizon and other major telephone companies were ordered to turn over all telephone call detail records (including the numbers dialed and received, the time, duration, and other identifying information) to the NSA on an ongoing basis.

The second story, published by the Washington Post, described the NSA’s collection of Internet communications directly from major service providers including Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Yahoo!, Apple, Skype, and AOL. The documents released also described the NSA’s “upstream collection” activity, which involves collecting digital communications directly from the fiber optic facilities that transfer Internet traffic.

Subsequent stories published by The Guardian and the Washington Post have revealed the scope of NSA surveillance activities, including “the capability of recording ‘100 percent’ of a foreign country’s telephone calls, enabling the agency to rewind and replay conversations as long as a month after they take place.” The stories also revealed that the NSA has collected millions of Internet address books or “buddy lists,” and has infiltrated the private links between Google and Yahoo! data centers. Both The Guardian and the Washington Post received Pulitzer Prizes in 2014 for their coverage of the NSA story.

As a result of the Snowden revelations, Congress has conducted both public and classified hearings, and has considered reform proposals aimed at ending the bulk collection, increasing transparency, and improving the FISA Court process. The Office of the Director of National Intelligence has also released thousands of pages of formerly classified documents, and created a public website to provide ongoing updates and transparency reports. Even the FISA Court, which formerly had no public presence, has created a publicly available website and docket.

Edward Snowden is one of the 2014 recipients of EPIC’s Champion of Freedom Award

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