Access, Coalition to President: Reform Surveillance Now

Access, joined by members of Congress, former government officials, and dozens of civil society groups and private companies, has urged the Obama Administration to reform surveillance practices under Executive Order 12333, which authorizes mass surveillance by NSA and other intelligence agencies with no meaningful limits. In a letter to the president and to the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, we also called for the declassification of current and future legal opinions interpreting this sweeping surveillance authority.

President Obama has the power to unilaterally reform this Executive Order to stop the unaccountable and unjustifiable bulk collections of millions of users’ data. Current practices are unlawful under international treaties, to which the U.S. is a party, and out of touch with long-accepted principles of privacy and human rights.

The signers include Representatives John Conyers, Zoe Lofgren, Rush Holt, and Alan Grayson; former government officials John Tye (former U.S. State Dept.), Ed Felton (former FTC Chief Technologist), and Ian Schuler (former U.S. State Dept.); and dozens of organizations including the American Civil Liberties Union, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Amnesty International, and Silent Circle.

Executive Order 12333 allows intelligence agencies to conduct surveillance that profoundly violates the basic rights of internet users in the U.S. and abroad. Unlike Section 215 of the Patriot Act, this Reagan-era policy not only allows for the bulk collection of metadata, but also the content of our communications — all via secret interpretations of a decades-old executive order.

Secret laws are a threat to American democracy. For decades, the NSA and other intelligence agencies have used authority purportedly granted in Executive Order 12333 to spy on millions of users without any meaningful limits. The president can and must stop these gross violations of our rights that continue without any oversight or accountability.

Alongside the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Access also submitted a further comment to the oversight board, providing more background on the Executive Order, but also asking for increased oversight of the scale and adequacy of other surveillance activities, the problem of over-classification, and the United States’ endorsement and implementation of international human rights principles on surveillance.

Access will continue to work with its partners to make public the legal interpretations concerning surveillance under Executive Order 12333, and to implement real privacy protections for users affected by activities conducted under the order.