Cybersecurity

Google, Facebook Warn NSA Bill Wouldn't Stop Mass Surveillance

Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP file photo

A day before the House will vote on a major bill designed to rein in government surveillance, a group of blue-chip tech firms are warning that the measure falls far short of what is advertised.

The Reform Government Surveillance coalition—whose members include Google, Facebook, Microsoft, AOL, Apple, Twitter, LinkedIn, DropBox, and Yahoo—issued a statement Wednesday announcing it was pulling its support of the USA Freedom Act. The legislation would take the storage of phone records out of government hands and keep them with phone companies.

But newly amended language in the bill has "moved in the wrong direction" of true surveillance reforms, the tech companies said.

"The latest draft opens up an unacceptable loophole that could enable the bulk collection of Internet users' data," the coalition said. "While it makes important progress, we cannot support this bill as currently drafted and urge Congress to close this loophole to ensure meaningful reform."

The loophole referred to is the Freedom Act's definition of a "specific selection term," which underwent changes in the newest version of the bill released this week. Earlier drafts, including the one passed two weeks ago by the House Judiciary and Intelligence committees, defined selectors as "a person, account or entity." But the new language—which adds words like "address and "device" and the non-limiting term "such as"—is seen as more broad.

Also on Wednesday, the Computer & Communications Industry Association, whose members additionally include Pandora, Samsung, Sprint and others, said it would "not support consideration or passage of the USA Freedom Act in its current form."

Several privacy groups have already revolted against the bill, citing similar concerns with the new language. Harley Geiger, senior counsel with the Center for Democracy & Technology, said the bill would allow for "an unacceptable level of surveillance." While the language could impose some limits on infinitely vast bulk collection of phone records, Geiger said, it could still potentially allow collection on areas as large as area codes or cities.

Earlier on Wednesday, the Obama administration made official its support of the amended Freedom Act, which is a product of weeks of backroom negotiations among the White House, intelligence officials and House leadership.

The House is scheduled to vote on the bill Thursday under closed rules, meaning that no amendments will be allowed.

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