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Sen. Dianne Feinstein's NSA 'reforms': bad for privacy, bad for business

Sen. Dianne Feinstein's NSA 'reforms': bad for privacy, bad for business

By Nicole Ozer, Technology & Civil Liberties Policy Director, ACLU of Northern California at 2:29pm
This op-ed originally ran in the San Jose Mercury News before the tech giants released their letter to Pres. Obama and Congress urging widespread surveillance reform. In August, the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, a Washington, D.C.-based pro-innovation think tank, calculated that over the next three years, the U.S. cloud computing industry stands to lose as much as $35 billion as international customers find other cloud computing services rather than risk their sensitive data falling into the NSA's giant maw. The estimate had to make U.S. tech executives' knees buckle. The fear of looking like data aggregators for the National Security Agency has even led tech giants like Apple, Google, Facebook and Microsoft to release transparency reports about government demands and lobby Congress to rein in the spy agency. Shareholders are now pushing AT&T and Verizon to stand up for user privacy and take similar actions. So if you had to pick a senator who would be especially attuned to Silicon Valley's fear of how the NSA revelations harm business, a front-runner should be Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-San Francisco. Yet as chairwoman of the secretive and powerful Senate Intelligence Committee, Feinstein has not only vocally defended NSA's dragnet surveillance programs, but she also introduced legislation -- cynically dubbed a reform measure -- that would entrench and expand the NSA's surveillance powers. Feinstein's FISA Improvements Act would be a dream come true for the NSA. What was once done in secret with little oversight would get congressional approval. The bill would codify the NSA's unconstitutional call-records program and allow bulk collection of location data from mobile phone users. Most egregiously, Feinstein's bill allows undefined "law enforcement agencies" to query its foreign intelligence databases, even for U.S. persons, without a warrant. Perhaps even our own local police could try to use its federal law enforcement relationships to get around using court orders to investigate people it doesn't have probable cause to scrutinize. If Feinstein's legislation were to pass, it would show the world that Congress no longer respects its citizens' fundamental privacy rights. And if Congress couldn't care less about protecting Americans' privacy, what kind of message would that send to the rest of the world, already enraged and frightened by the NSA's insatiable global surveillance? What kind of scarlet letter would that put on America's most popular technological brands? After seeing the Feinstein bill for what it is -- an NSA wish list -- it's no wonder major technology companies sent a letter of applause to the bipartisan members of Congress behind the USA FREEDOM Act, which limits NSA surveillance and brings the surveillance programs out into the sunlight. Since the rise of Facebook and social media in general, there's always been a pernicious myth that people no longer care about their privacy because of how much information they reveal online. Thankfully, the global reaction to the NSA's project to make privacy extinct shows just how very precious privacy remains to people, no matter where they call home or on what side of the political aisle they may sit. Privacy isn't just a human right; it's essential for business. America's most dominant tech industries are already threatened with paying a very high price for the NSA's overreach, which Feinstein says she largely knew about, supported and enabled. If Feinstein has her way, she won't only irreparably harm everyone's privacy rights, but also the nation's economic competitiveness globally. Talk about a lose-lose situation.
From the Land of the Liberty Bell: Investigate the NSA

From the Land of the Liberty Bell: Investigate the NSA

By Andy Hoover, Legislative Director, ACLU of Pennsylvania at 12:30pm

Here in Pennsylvania, we have a full-time legislature, so as the lobbyist for the Pennsylvania affiliate of the ACLU, I have plenty of opportunities for face time with state legislators and staff. Since June, I've been hearing a similar refrain repeatedly:…

A Very Unhappy Anniversary for Low-Income Women

A Very Unhappy Anniversary for Low-Income Women

By Sarah Lipton-Lubet, ACLU Washington Legislative Office at 11:07am

Some anniversaries just don't deserve a celebration, and today is one of them. Thirty-seven years ago today, Congress shut off Medicaid coverage for abortion care, unfairly targeting low-income women.

The Hyde Amendment, which was enacted…

One Step Closer to Extending Abortion Coverage for Peace Corps Volunteers

One Step Closer to Extending Abortion Coverage for Peace Corps Volunteers

By Elayne Weiss, Washington Legislative Office at 3:12pm

In the past couple of weeks, we’ve seen nothing but attack after attack on women’s reproductive health. So in a welcomed change of direction, we finally have some terrific news to report. Today, the Senate bill that funds the Peace Corps program…

Following Historic Supreme Court Decision Striking Down DOMA, Administration Acts

Following Historic Supreme Court Decision Striking Down DOMA, Administration Acts

By Ian S. Thompson, ACLU Washington Legislative Office at 3:32pm

Following Wednesday's historic decision by the Supreme Court striking down the heart...

Is E-Verify Effective? Depends on How You Look at It

Is E-Verify Effective? Depends on How You Look at It

By Chris Calabrese, Legislative Counsel, ACLU Washington Legislative Office at 3:35pm

Yesterday the New York Times wrote about E-Verify, the system of employment verification tucked into the immigration legislation that passed the Senate later in the afternoon. As the Times notes, E-Verify is "a linchpin of the legislation… [that]…

The Good, Bad, and Ugly for Religious Liberty and LGBT Rights in Defense Bill

The Good, Bad, and Ugly for Religious Liberty and LGBT Rights in Defense Bill

By Ian S. Thompson, ACLU Washington Legislative Office & Dena Sher, ACLU Washington Legislative Office at 1:15pm

A sure sign of early summer in Washington, besides the sticky, humid air, is the House and Senate Armed Services Committees kicking off the annual process to pass the defense authorization bill – known as the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).…

The PATRIOT Act’s Section 215 Must be Reformed

The PATRIOT Act’s Section 215 Must be Reformed

By Laura W. Murphy, Director, ACLU Washington Legislative Office at 3:16pm

The following remarks were given by Laura Murphy, director of the ACLU's Washington Legislative Office, at Sen. Rand Paul's press conference yesterday announcing his intention to sue the government to stop NSA surveillance of Americans' communications.…

Congress Takes Much Needed Step Forward on Over-Criminalization

Congress Takes Much Needed Step Forward on Over-Criminalization

By Alex Berger, Legislative Assistant, ACLU at 4:59pm

Earlier this month, a high school honors student named Kiera Wilmot was charged with felony discharge of a weapon on school property. Her crime? Creating her own science experiment.

When Kiera mixed several household chemicals together in a…

The LA Times Agrees – ENDA’s Religious Exemption Must Be Narrowed

The LA Times Agrees – ENDA’s Religious Exemption Must Be Narrowed

By Ian S. Thompson, ACLU Washington Legislative Office at 11:08am

On Thursday, the Los Angeles Times published a powerful editorial arguing that a blank check for religiously affiliated organizations – far beyond houses of worship – to discriminate in employment against LGBT people should not be the price paid…