Thoughtworks endorsed the original USA FREEDOM Act in October 2013 as a good first step towards reining in mass surveillance. Our support was grounded in recognition that the NSA's capricious spying undermined the privacy of US and global citizens, their trust in the Internet, the capacity of governments to engage with each other, and was having serious and adverse effect on our industry.
Since the introduction of the original USA FREEDOM Act, the public has continued to learn more details about NSA surveillance programs. We have seen a court rule that dragnet phone surveillance activities are likely unconstitutional. We have received 46 sweeping reform recommendations from the President’s special task force on NSA surveillance. And we have heard the President himself echo the call for meaningful reforms.
Given such momentum for change, we hoped that USA FREEDOM would be passed in its original form, or strengthened in response to new revelations and to incorporate new reform proposals. We hoped new bills focused on surveillance authorities not addressed by USA FREEDOM would be introduced. Instead, in both the House and Senate the behind-the-scenes compromises required to draft a bill that would reach the floor for a vote have weakened USA FREEDOM so much that we now believe its passage would actively be counter-productive to meaningful reform.
Some reformers claim that any progress, no matter how small, is worth supporting. We disagree. USA FREEDOM not only fails to enact strong enough reforms, it codifies some surveillance practices that currently lack statutory basis and it extends the US Patriot Act, the framework enabling many surveillance and other objectionable activities to be undertaken in the name of US national security. The recent full-throated endorsement of the Senate version of the act by the Department of National Intelligence, formerly one of its fiercest opponents, clearly indicates what interests this “reform” will actually serve. Finally, in the current political environment, should USA FREEDOM pass, we see little chance of further, stronger reforms being introduced to address the significant problems it does not.
More than a year after Edward Snowden's initial revelations, the US Congress is proving unwilling to govern the massive US surveillance state, showing how out of step it is with the values and priorities of US citizens and companies, as well as people around the world.
Today Thoughtworks joins whistleblowers, policy experts and other organizations representing millions of citizens to urge a NO vote to the USA FREEDOM act. We have become convinced that action in the courts, defunding the NSA, and ending the Patriot Act are the most promising current avenues for reform. We repeat our call, with the New York Times, millions of citizens and 10 brave co-sponsors in the House of Representatives calling for immediate passage of Rep. Holt's HR 2818.IH - The Surveillance State Repeal Act.
Disclaimer: The statements and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Thoughtworks.