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Sen. Franken Introduces Bill to Increase Transparency of Government Surveillance Programs

Senator’s Bill Would Help Americans Hold Government Accountable

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Today U.S. Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) introduced legislation that would increase transparency on government surveillance programs.

Sen. Franken's Surveillance Transparency Act of 2013 would expand and improve ongoing government reporting about programs under the PATRIOT Act and Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act that have been the subject of controversy in recent weeks. The bill would also make it easier for companies to voluntarily disclose information about the data the government requires them to turn over.

Currently, federal laws require the government to release only a minimum amount of information to the public about these programs, which the federal government has recently supplemented with additional, ad hoc disclosures. The companies involved in these programs are subject to strict gag orders.

"I believe the government must give proper weight to both keeping America safe from terrorists and protecting Americans' privacy," said Sen. Franken. "And part of that is making sure that there is enough transparency so that Americans understand the protections that are in place. Based on briefings I've received, I believe there are reasonable safeguards in place in these programs to protect Americans' privacy. But the American people should not have to take the government's word for it. And I don't want transparency only where it's convenient to the government. The American public deserves more transparency, and my bill goes a long way toward doing that."

Sen. Franken is the Chairman of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology, and the Law. He has been a long-time advocate of increased transparency of government surveillance programs. In 2011 and 2012, he cosponsored legislation to ensure that the American people have a basic understanding of the programs designed to protect them. When these measures did not pass, he voted against reauthorizing key provisions of both the PATRIOT Act and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

The Surveillance Transparency Act of 2013 would:

Require the government to report annually on:

  • The number of Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court orders issued under key provisions of the PATRIOT Act and FISA;
  • The number of searches run on that data, including the number of searches run based on data from American citizens and permanent residents;
  • The general categories of information collected;
  • The number of American citizens and permanent residents whose information was collected under the categories and;
  • The number of American citizens and permanent residents whose information was actually reviewed by federal agents.

Allow companies to voluntarily disclose:

  • The number of orders they received and complied with;
  • The general categories of information they produced; and
  • The number of users whose information was produced in the categories.

You can read more about the Surveillance Transparency Act of 2013 here and find bill text here. You can watch video of Sen. Franken discussing the need for increased transparency during yesterday's Judiciary Committee here.

Sen. Franken's legislation is cosponsored by Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Tom Udall (D-N. Mex.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Mark Udall (D-Colo.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), and Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.).

Sen. Franken's legislation responds to the concerns of over 60 leading Internet companies and advocacy groups who recently wrote the President and congressional leaders to demand more government disclosure on surveillance programs and the ability to release information on data the government is requesting. It is supported by a bipartisan coalition of civil society groups, including the American Library Association, the ACLU, the Center for Democracy & Technology, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the Constitution Project, Consumer Action, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, OpentheGovernment.org, and Reporters Without Borders.

This release has been updated.

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