Silicon Valley sees hope in battle against NSA

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Tech companies and civil liberties groups are becoming more optimistic that the Senate will take major steps to rein in the National Security Agency this year.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) is expected to introduce a bill Tuesday that would prevent the NSA from obtaining broad swaths of information about people’s phone calls and also create a stronger advocate for civil liberties on the secretive federal court that oversees surveillance activities, which currently only hears arguments from the government.

Leahy’s bill also adds new provisions on transparency that would represent big wins for tech firms. It would allow tech companies to disclose more details about the government requests for data they receive, and require the surveillance court to issue clear summaries of how its opinions would impact civil liberties.

Tech firms large and small have complained that customers are wary of them because of the revelations about the NSA’s surveillance of their systems. Analysts say those worries translate into billions of dollars in lost profits.

“This bill will help us in dealing with the problems that we are facing overseas,” one industry lobbyist said.

“This we will be able to send back to foreign governments to say ‘We are very clear now on how the government goes about the practice of data collection as it relates to us, and proposals to punish or discriminate against U.S. companies really aren’t warranted,’” he added.

Tech firms say the Leahy bill, if it is approved by the Senate, would be a big win after a setback in the House, which approved a bill that disappointed them.

The Judiciary chairman has spent months negotiating with other lawmakers, outside groups, tech firms and the Obama administration to craft a bill that could pass muster with all of them.

Early indications seem to be largely positive.

A National Security Council spokesman this week said the administration has been “encouraged by the recent progress in the Senate,” though there are..
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