A bipartisan group of lawmakers has introduced legislation to prevent US agencies from using gag orders to hide domestic surveillance indefinitely.
US agencies have been using gag orders for years, prohibiting tech companies from notifying their customers when the government obtains their data. In many cases, the gag orders have no time limit attached, meaning some customers never find out their emails, messages, and other data were seized. In some of the most extreme cases, data belonging to journalists for the New York Times, CNN, and Fox News was seized, and those seizures remained secret for years.
A group of bipartisan lawmakers, in both houses of Congress, want to stop the gag orders and bring transparency to the entire process. The Government Surveillance Transparency Act was introduced by Senators Ron Wyden and Steve Daines, and co-sponsored by Senators Cory Booker, and Mike Lee. Meanwhile, in the House, Ted Lieu and Warren Davidson are introducing the companion legislation.
“When the government obtains someone’s emails or other digital information, users have a right to know,” Wyden said. “Our bill ensures that no investigation will be compromised, but makes sure the government can’t hide surveillance forever by misusing sealing and gag orders to prevent the American people from understanding the enormous scale of government surveillance, as well as ensuring that the targets eventually learn their personal information has been searched.”
“It’s simple—Montanans have a Constitutional right to know if their personal information has been searched or seized or if they’re being investigated by the government,” Senator Daines said. “We must increase transparency regarding government surveillance while maintaining the integrity of investigations.”
The legislation would be a major step forward for transparency and privacy.