Yesterday the Senate passed and President Obama signed into law the USA Freedom Act, a piece of legislation meant to curb the government’s ability to conduct widespread surveillance.
Now that the dust has settled, both privacy advocates and tech insiders alike are breathing a sigh of relief.
The Freedom Act was built as an answer to the sunsetting clauses of the Patriot Act, which was signed into law right after 9/11, giving US authorities the seeming unfettered ability to surveil US civilians. The USA Freedom Act significantly reigns in the federal government’s ability to spy on citizens, an issue that has been widely debated in the wake of the leaked documents revealed NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.
Overall, the Freedom Act’s passing was met with praise from those in tech and beyond.
The American Library Association’s executive director Emily Sheketoff wrote in a statement to Business Insider that the bill’s passage was “a milestone,” going on to explain that it’s the “first meaningful reform of our surveillance law in almost 15 years.”
Similarly, the Mozilla Corporation’s senior vice president of business and legal affairs Denelle Dixon-Thayer described it as “a significant first step to restore trust online, and a foundation for further needed reform.”
The general consensus is: This is good, but just the beginning. While celebration appears to be widespread, it’s still an imperfect bill.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation wrote in a blog post yesterday:
In the wake of the damning evidence of surveillance abuses disclosed by Edward Snowden, Congress had an opportunity to champion comprehensive surveillance reform and undertake a thorough investigation, like it did with the Church Committee. Congress could have tried to completely end mass surveillance and taken numerous other steps to rein in the NSA and FBI. This bill was the result of compromise and strong leadership by Sens. Patrick Leahy and Mike Lee and Reps. Robert Goodlatte, Jim Sensenbrenner, and John Conyers.
Despite this, the ardent coalition of privacy defenders concluded that this was a moment of celebration. “We fought hard to get to this moment in history,” they wrote in the blog post.
Mozilla, in a conversation with Business Insider, confirmed these sentiments. “[The USA Freedom Act] is certainly not perfect,” Chris Riley, Mozilla’s head of public policy told Business Insider a few weeks ago. “It’s not comprehensive… [but] it’s a very significant positive step going forward.”
Players like Mozilla and the EFF have been working fervently to pass bills defending digital civil liberties for years now. Both have gone to Washington to lobby support for bills like the Freedom Act. And both have been working to end the government’s huge surveillance program that came to light thanks to the Edward Snowden leaks.
Even though the Freedom Act fixes some of these issues but not all of them, tech and privacy advocates alike see this then as a trepidatious day of victory. In many ways, it marks a moment when politicians and citizens have woken up to the huge issue that is digital privacy.
This is the first in many bills to combat what’s seen as overt governmental privacy invasion. Now, these organisations are going to look into what needs to be fixed and continue onward from there.