Bipartisan Bill Would Expand U.S. Data Collection Transparency Requirements

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A bipartisan group of lawmakers today introduced bills in the House and Senate that would expand transparency requirements when it comes to government oversight of US citizens, adding email, text, location and cloud data to the existing reporting framework. Currently, the US government is required to warn Americans who are the target of wiretaps and subpoenas for bank details, but this does not apply to digital or cloud data. The Government Supervision Transparency Act aims to adapt the preconditions of this rule and extend it to more common, modern forms of digital communication and data storage.

The Senate bill is sponsored by Oregon Democrat Ron Wyden, Montana Republican Steve Daines, New Jersey Democrat Cory Booker and Utah Republican Mike Lee, while an accompanying bill in the House of Representatives is supported by the United States House of Representatives. Democrat Ted Lieu of California and Republican Warren Davidson of Ohio. They argue that hundreds of thousands of criminal surveillance orders from US authorities go unreported each year, leaving Americans in the dark about the wide scope of the government’s monitoring programs.

The bill also addresses the government’s use of gag orders to stop tech companies from informing their customers about surveillance campaigns. While many tech companies have tried to voluntarily report government subpoenas and data requests to their customers, lawmakers say authorities have used gag orders to keep these campaigns secret.

“If the government obtains someone’s emails or other digital information, users have a right to know,” Wyden said in a press release. “Our bill ensures that no investigation is jeopardized, but ensures that the government cannot hide oversight forever by abusing sealing and gag orders to prevent the American people from understanding the enormity of government oversight and ensuring to ensure that targets eventually learn that their personal information has been searched.”

In addition to reforms to the reporting requirements and the gag order, the legislation would force authorities to publish online general information about any surveillance assignment they complete. It would also require law enforcement to notify the courts if they search the wrong person, home or device as part of an investigation, as well as if a company shares unauthorized information.

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