Larsen Bill Would Increase Transparency of Government’s Electronic Data Surveillance

Jul 18, 2013 Issues: National Security

WASHINGTON—Tech companies will be able to tell their customers when they are required to turn over electronic data to the government if Congress passes a bill introduced today by Rep. Rick Larsen, WA-02.

The Government Surveillance Transparency Act of 2013 would allow companies to publicly disclose the volume and type of information they are ordered to turn over to federal intelligence agencies. Right now companies are barred from acknowledging when they are required to turn over information to the National Security Agency under some sections of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

“I am deeply concerned that the government’s secret surveillance programs are apparently scooping up large amounts of personal information on Americans in broad and continuing dragnet operations,” Larsen said. “These programs are operating in the dark with little oversight from Congress and with virtually no information available to the American public.

“I am introducing the Government Surveillance Transparency Act of 2013 so that companies can tell their customers when they are required to turn over data. I believe the American people have the right to know what kind of information the government is collecting from them.”

Tech companies including Microsoft, Apple, Google and Facebook, have asked the federal government for permission to share more information about requests for information from the National Security Agency. The New York Times reported today that a coalition of tech companies and civil liberties proponents are seeking Congressional action on the issue.

One of those companies, Microsoft, welcomed Larsen’s Government Surveillance Transparency Act.

“Microsoft supports the goals of the legislation,” said Fred Humphries, Microsoft’s Vice President for U.S. Government Affairs. “Rep. Larsen’s Government Surveillance Transparency Act helps to address the concerns that led Microsoft to ask the U.S. government for authority to be more transparent about the numbers and types of national security requests we may have received.  We thank Rep. Larsen [and his co-sponsors] for their leadership on this important issue.”

Larsen is also cosponsoring H.R. 2475, the Ending Secret Law Act, a bipartisan bill that will require more transparency directly from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. This bill will require the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to disclose publicly its opinions that contain significant interpretations of laws. Right now, all opinions from this court are secret.

The text of the Government Surveillance Transparency Act of 2013 is available here. A fact sheet on the bill is available here.