The U.S. Congress will soon decide whether to reauthorize one of the government’s most notorious mass surveillance programs. On June 1st, three sections of the PATRIOT Act are set to expire, giving us a rare opportunity to push for reforms that will protect our privacy while also keeping us safe.
One of the provisions up for review, Section 215, has been used by the National Security Agency (NSA) to collect all call records of nearly everyone in the United States. For every call you make, the details of who you called, when you called, and for how long the call lasted — an incredibly detailed map of your private life — are all indiscriminately gathered by the NSA on an ongoing, daily basis.
Today, Mozilla is launching a campaign to enable our community to send a clear message to Congress: rein in the NSA and stop mass surveillance.
We believe keeping us safe shouldn’t have to cost us our privacy. That’s why we’re pushing for Congress to significantly reform these parts of the PATRIOT Act. Take action now!
Mozilla’s Position on Surveillance Reform
Mozilla is launching this campaign because our mission calls us to do so. The fourth principle of Mozilla’s Manifesto states: “Individuals’ security and privacy on the Internet are fundamental and must not be treated as optional.” There’s a long list of reforms and regulations we think are needed to improve user security, privacy, and trust — things like closing government backdoors, ensuring strong encryption, putting in place stronger oversight and accountability, and improving preventative security practices. Today, we have an opportunity to begin the long road toward reform by pushing Congress to rein in one of the worst abuses of the NSA. More specifically, we want Congress to adopt:
- A strict ban on bulk collection activities under Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act, as well as Section 214 Pen Register/Trap and Trace authorities;
- Sufficient transparency reporting in order to be able to tell if bulk or mass surveillance is occurring (this could include a blend of corporate transparency reporting, government transparency reporting, and declassification of Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court opinions);
- No new data retention mandates; and
- No new secret surveillance authorities, powers, or programs.
It’s been nearly two years since the Snowden revelations began, and yet Congress has not passed any meaningful reform of the NSA’s sweeping, untargeted collection of our private information. Click here to join us in demanding that Congress rein in these mass surveillance programs.
Want to learn more? Here are some FAQ:
What’s Mozilla’s history with this issue?
Mozilla and our global community have been leading the surveillance reform fight. We helped develop the StopWatching.US campaign. We participated in Reset The Net. We’ve issued positions to policy makers in the U.S. We’ve created teaching kits and added product features to empower people to protect their privacy. We’ve taken other steps, such as our Polaris Initiative and supporting the launch of Let’s Encrypt, to signal the need for greater user-friendly encryption tools for the mainstream.
Why are you focused on 215 rather than all of the PATRIOT Act?
The PATRIOT Act is a very large piece of legislation (it’s more than 340 pages), which Congress passed just three days after it was introduced. However, Congress did have the foresight to build in expiration dates, or “sunset clauses,” that require lawmakers to reauthorize parts of this legislation every few years. Three of the PATRIOT Act’s many sections, including Section 215, will expire on June 1, providing a unique opportunity to call for reform.
What does Section 215 actually say?
Section 215 allows the NSA or the FBI to order any person or entity to turn over “any tangible things,” so long as the government “specif[ies]” that the order is “for an authorized investigation… to protect against international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities.” The NSA’s lawyers have stretched the definition of “tangible things” to include the details of nearly all call records in the U.S..
What happens if Congress doesn’t reform Section 215 before June 1?
It’s highly unlikely that Congress will allow this law to just expire, so if Congress reauthorizes these sections of the PATRIOT Act without reforms, these mass surveillance programs will likely continue.
Aren’t you worried that reforming mass surveillance aids terrorists?
The reforms we seek still enable the government to get a wiretap of a suspected terrorist. The fact is that today’s mass surveillance programs are indiscriminately collecting personal information on millions of innocent people who have never been suspected of any involvement in terrorism. Even the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, the independent agency that advises the President on the impact of surveillance practices, has called the Section 215 phone records bulk collection program illegal. In fact, the agency could not point to a single terrorist attack that the current program has stopped.
Is Congress considering any new protections for people outside the U.S.?
It’s unlikely that there will be any new protections for people outside the U.S. in any bill reforming or reauthorizing Section 215 and other provisions of the PATRIOT Act. Mozilla’s agenda for surveillance reform is much broader than what Congress is considering right now, and indeed we will continue to fight for reform of surveillance and cybersecurity policies globally, but we believe ending the mass surveillance activities authorized by these parts of the PATRIOT Act is an important step to protecting user security and privacy.
Why does a Web company care about phone metadata?
While the primary surveillance program operated under Section 215 allows for the bulk collection of telephone records, this provision also could be used to authorize the NSA to conduct mass surveillance of Internet records. Indeed, given the lack of transparency in both NSA activities and Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court opinions, it’s hard to know what the NSA and other intelligence agencies are doing. Independent experts believe there are around 180 orders from the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court that rely on Section 215, but we know that only five of those orders are used for the NSA’s bulk collection of phone records program. Without more transparency, we have no way of knowing what the other 175 orders were for. Reform of these sections of the PATRIOT Act will set a major precedent, one we can leverage to take other steps needed to ensure user privacy and security, so we have to join together to speak out now.
I am not from the U.S., can I participate in the campaign?
Unfortunately, this campaign is focused on citizens of the U.S. If you are not a U.S. citizen, please forward this to your friends and family who are U.S. citizens.