USA Freedom Act: An important step forward

 |   Brad Smith - President

Earlier this afternoon, the U.S. Congress passed by a 2-to-1 margin the USA Freedom Act, which will bring about significant reforms to the nation’s surveillance programs once it is signed into law as expected by President Obama.

The USA Freedom Act strikes an important balance between protecting public safety and preserving civil liberties. In addition to protecting personal privacy, it provides for greater transparency and increased accountability about the government’s surveillance activities while maintaining national security.

Since the disclosures about surveillance first emerged in 2013, the world has rightfully focused on concerns about government access to personal information. We know that people will not use technology they do not trust. That’s why Microsoft and a broad coalition of tech companies and civil society called on Congress to act to change the surveillance laws.

The USA Freedom Act will increase trust in technology by implementing essential reforms to the USA Patriot Act. The legislation will ensure that the public is aware of what their government is doing by allowing companies to publish detailed transparency reports. Governments also need to act with proper accountability with proper regard for legal process and people’s rights. The reforms of the FISA Court in the bill moves government accountability forward by increasing the transparency of its proceedings and rulings and introducing a process for amicus curiae. And the new law ends the bulk collection of data – a program that a federal court recently struck down.

As we’ve said before, 2015 is a year that calls for solutions – for measures that will ensure people benefit from the privacy and civil liberties they deserve while ensuring law enforcement can access the information it needs to keep the public safe – all pursuant to proper legal process and the rule of law. Congress and the President have provided a solution with this new law. The USA Freedom Act is a substantial step in reforming US surveillance laws, increasing transparency and accountability.

There’s still more work to do, both here in the United States and internationally. High on that list is the creation of new international legal frameworks to tackle other important issues we face in ensuring the free flow of information around the world while respecting national sovereignty. There is no doubt that today marks an important step forward in striking a better balance between public safety and privacy.

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