Microsoft, others, calls on White House, Congress to reform US Patriot Act

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A letter supporting “essential reforms to the USA Patriot Act” was sent today by Microsoft and members of the Reform Government Surveillance coalition and other civil liberty advocates. Their letter regards surveillance laws and the need to reform the current Patriot Act. This letter comes nine months after last year’s post on the same topic and two years after The Washington Post’s and Guardian’s original report on US government surveillance, brought on by revelations from Edward Snowden.

The letter sent today is shorter than their previous post but is backed by over a page of organizations. Here are the main bullets points from the letter

  • There must be a clear, strong, and effective end to bulk collection practices under the USA PATRIOT Act, including under the Section 215 records authority and the Section 214 authority regarding pen registers and trap & trace devices.Any collection that does occur under those authorities should have appropriate safeguards in place to protect privacy and users’ rights.
  • The bill must contain transparency and accountability mechanisms for both government and company reporting, as well as an appropriate declassification regime for Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court

To more fully understand the context of this situation, it’s worth going through the key points of last year’s post as well. Microsoft listed five things they view the U.S. government needs to do.

“Recognise that U.S. search warrants end at the U.S. borders:” Microsoft points out that since the United States’ authority ends at its own borders that warrants have no jurisdiction outside of the country. A concrete example of this disagreement is Microsoft’s fight over data in the cloud. While Microsoft is headquartered in Redmond, they store data overseas which in their opinion cannot be seized by a warrant from the U.S. government.

“End bulk collections:” Microsoft expressed a desire to strengthen the USA Freedom act to prevent bulk collection of phone records and data. President Obama has already expressed similar feelings on the subject.

“Reform the FISA Court:” FISA courts are a controversial subject and Microsoft stated that “a judge who hears only one side of a case is less likely to render a just result. Congress needs to recognize and act on the need for FISA Court reform.”

“Commit not to hack data centers or cables:” A deep concern of Microsoft’s is the fact that according to the Washington Post “the National Security Agency hacked systems outside the U.S. to access data held by Yahoo! and Google.” They also pointed out that foreign bodies or governments hacking into data in the United States is considered prosecutable so there shouldn’t be a dichotomy between the two.

“Continue to increase transparency:” Microsoft gained the ability to release how many security-related demands they receive and also asked for more movement in the direction of transparency.

Between today’s letter backed by a long list of organizations, and their previous post on government surveillance, Microsoft has made a strong stance and may lead to a specific response from the White House and Congress. Microsoft emphasized multiple times the constitutionally guaranteed rights of American citizens outlined in the fourth amendment which ensures the right to not have things searched or seized without probably cause and a warrant.