Rep. Zoe Lofgren and Bipartisan Congressional Coalition Introduce Surveillance Order Reporting Act

August 2, 2013
Press Release

Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) and a bipartisan coalition of leading Congressional voices calling to rein in overreaching surveillance programs have introduced legislation today that would enable companies to shed light on the number of surveillance orders they receive and how many of their users are affected by those demands for information. Under the Surveillance Order Reporting Act, telecommunications and Internet service providers would be allowed to publicly estimate the number of data requests they receive and the number of individuals targeted for data collection orders under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) and national security letters. The bill is being co-sponsored by Reps. Justin Amash (R-MI), Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), John Conyers (D-MI), Suzan DelBene (D-WA), Blake Farenthold (R-TX), Thomas Massie (R-KY), Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), Ted Poe (R-TX) and Jared Polis (D-CO).

The government currently bars companies from disclosing even basic information about the requests they receive. The lawmakers have said this lack of basic information impedes informed public debate, undermines user trust in Internet services, and has led to strained relationships between U.S. companies and international business partners. Rep. Lofgren noted that the legislation is needed to provide greater transparency to the public and allow Internet and telecommunications companies to preserve global confidence in their services.

"The recent debate in Congress on these programs made it clear that we can't have an intelligent discussion on this issue without a more accurate grasp of the scope of surveillance," said Rep. Zoe Lofgren. "This bill is a needed first step to free Internet companies to provide the public information on how many surveillance orders they receive and how many of their users are affected."

"The public is eager for a national conversation on how to strike the right balance between privacy and national security, and this bipartisan bill is a step towards providing the transparency that will inform this important conversation," said Rep. Suzan DelBene. "Providing access to basic information about how the government is using its surveillance authorities will help provide greater accountability and oversight of these surveillance programs, and I am pleased to join with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to cosponsor this legislation."

"I am proud to join Representative Lofgren in continuing to shine a spotlight on the NSA's surveillance program," said Rep. Jared Polis. "This bill will finally permit Internet companies to publicly release statistics on the surveillance orders requested by the federal government. I believe our government can balance our privacy and national security needs without harming the bottom lines of U.S. based companies."

A growing chorus of technology firms and lawmakers has called for the government to allow companies to report FISA orders and national security letters separately from more conventional data requests from law enforcement. In a letter last month, Reps. Lofgren and James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) had requested Attorney General Eric Holder and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper to allow U.S. companies to issue general reports in a similar manner. Thus far, however, companies are only permitted to release vague, minimally helpful figures.

The Surveillance Order Reporting Act is specifically tailored to authorize companies to release more detailed information to the public while avoiding danger to national security. Specifically, the bill provides that:

  • Internet and telecommunications companies may report an estimated number of surveillance orders received, the estimated number of orders complied with, and the estimated number of users and accounts on whom information is requested or provided.
  • The reports may include the number of users affected by requests that carry over though multiple reporting periods.
  • The numbers reported may be in a range of 100, rounded to the nearest 100s (i.e., 1-100, 100-200, etc.).
  • The reports may be made quarterly or in larger time periods (i.e., annually, semi-annually, etc.)
  • Service providers are not subject to criminal or civil liability for making reports they reasonably believe are authorized by the bill.
  • The bill does not prohibit other disclosures authorized by other laws.

Click here for a detailed summary of the legislation.

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