The Tenth Amendment Center has joined a trans-partisan coalition of surveillance whistleblowers, civil liberties advocates, and organizations representing millions of Americans calling for a rejection of the latest version of the USA Freedom Act in the US Senate.

The civil liberties coalition’s joint letter outlines numerous concerns with the legislation, including ambiguous language that is open to abuse, the failure to include provisions specifically protecting the rights of Americans, blanket legal immunity for corporations that help spy on Americans, and the reauthorization of key sections of the USA PATRIOT Act relating to intelligence gathering.

Mike Maharrey, executive director of coalition partner OffNow, said that passage of the bill would lead people to falsely believe Congress “fixed” NSA spying when it did no such thing.

“I’ve heard some senators and pundits saying the USA Freedom Act will ‘end dragnet spying.’ This is simply not true and we are in big trouble if this passes and the general public buys the lie,” he said.

While some civil liberties organizations have expressed support for the Sen. Patrick Leahy’s version of the USA Freedom Act, a spokesperson for the coalition said the signatories feel the dangers posed by the bill outweigh the possible positives, especially considering wide-ranging interpretations of some of the language already circulating.

“We’re not saying that anyone’s interpretations are wrong, just that this bill can be interpreted in numerous different ways, which has previously proven to be a major problem. So, the problem is not just that the bill fails to stop many kind of abuses, but that it can be interpreted as actually authorizing more aggressive spying on us than before.  If civil liberties groups disagree on the interpretation of this bill, imagine what the NSA’s interpretations will look like,” Internet culture leader and community Internet pioneer Sascha Meinrath said.

The coalition also expressed grave reservations about reauthorizing provisions of the Patriot Act for two years.

“In many ways, the Patriot Act is the root of the problem. It created the framework for today’s unwarranted spying and rampant violations of basic privacy rights. Trying to reform the NSA while simply extending these provisions in the Patriot Act for two more years with no debate is a little like slapping a Band-Aid over an amputation,” coalition spokesperson Brian Sonenstein said.

Signatories include several Intelligence Community whistleblowers, including William Binney, Thomas Drake, Daniel Ellsberg and Mark Klein.

Klein blew the whistle on NSA surveillance conducted by AT&T nearly a decade ago.

“The bill tinkers around the edges of the phone call records collection while leaving untouched the core of these surveillance programs: the vast, unconstitutional dragnet collection of internet data which I helped expose,” Klein said. “To top it off, the bill now includes the renewal of the Patriot Act, thereby institutionalizing the entire monstrous apparatus.”

From the Tenth Amendment Center, executive director Michael Boldin took the position that Congress simply can not be counted on.

“Nearly forty years ago, Sen. Frank Church warned that the power of the NSA could destroy privacy and enable a ‘total tyranny,'” he said. Four decades later, and Congress still hasn’t done anything. There’s just no reason to trust Congress to do the right thing at this point, which is why the state-level solutions offered at our sister organization, OffNow, are vitally important.”

Mike Maharrey

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