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Tech Groups Pressure Congress To End NSA Bulk Data Collection

As some government spying powers are set to expire, Congress will soon decide whether to reauthorize provisions of the Patriot Act. Tech associations argue for greater accountability and transparency.

Posted on April 16, 2015, at 7:38 p.m. ET

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A host of technology trade groups are lobbying Congress to end the government's controversial metadata collection program that was brought to public prominence by Edward Snowden almost two years ago. In a letter sent to intelligence and judiciary leadership yesterday, groups representing a vast array of tech firms, including Google, IBM, Facebook, and Apple, expressed support for fundamental surveillance reform.

The groups take specific issue with Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which federal agencies claim gives authority to collect American phone records without a warrant. The six groups that sent the letter, including TechNet, the Information Technology Industry Council, and the Information Industry Association, also appealed for increased government transparency. Their primary concern was that the current state of affairs is leading to a worldwide erosion of trust.

"U.S. technology providers continue to face concerns from global customers regarding the safety and security of their offerings," the groups wrote. "In fact, foreign competitors and foreign governments regularly seize on this opportunity to challenge U.S. technological leadership by raising questions about our nation's surveillance regime."

Backed by the White House, a legislative effort to reign in some of the National Security Agency's surveillance power was stalled by the Senate late last year.

"The Internet industry has been working tirelessly on behalf of their users to reform government surveillance, end bulk data collection, and increase transparency. Almost two years after these programs were first revealed, the U.S. government has failed to act," Noah Theran, a spokesperson for the Internet Association, another group behind the letter, told BuzzFeed News.

Key spying provisions of the Patriot Act, Section 215 among them, are set to expire on June 1. Lawmakers, as well as NSA and FBI officials, have argued that Section 215 remains a crucial anti-terror and law enforcement tool. While the provision has been reauthorized in the past, this will be the first time it's been voted on since Snowden revealed the NSA's phone-monitoring program of U.S. citizens. The House of Representatives is expected to vote on reauthorization as early as next week.