Members of Congress Just Voted to Give the Trump Administration Greater Spy Powers

House leadership today once again caved to irresponsible fearmongering from the intelligence agencies and succeeded in jamming through a hastily drafted surveillance bill.

In a 256-164 vote, the House passed a bill that would extend, or in many respects possibly expand, a controversial spying authority known as Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. This law is used to spy on the emails, text messages, and other electronic communications of Americans and foreigners without a warrant. The bill now goes to the Senate.

The members who supported the dangerous FISA Amendments Reauthorization Act, including House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) and Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), acted in direct opposition to the interests of their constituents to be free from warrantless government spying. Senate leaders should refuse to buckle under pressure from the Trump administration and intelligence committees, and instead vote to reform these government powers, which could too easily be deployed to spy on immigrant communities, minorities, government critics — and everyone else.

Since the Snowden revelations in 2013, the public learned that Section 702 has been used unlawfully and in ways that was never intended. The government has more than 100,000 “targets” for surveillance, and collects hundreds of millions of communications per year. These targets, which can be people or groups, aren’t individually approved by a court. By design, this dragnet includes intimate and private communications with individuals in the U.S., and very likely disproportionately impacts immigrants, journalists, and global businesses that more frequently engage in overseas communications.

The government would have you believe that all of the individuals they target are known terrorists. But we know this is not true. Court records confirm that not all 702 targets are terrorism suspects. Indeed, the law allows the government to target individuals who it believes are reasonably likely to communicate about “foreign affairs.” If you are a journalist talking about North Korea, a businessman expressing thoughts about the global economy, or an ordinary person discussing the Trump border wall proposal, your conversation could be considered “foreign intelligence” under the law’s broad definition.

This is only a part of the problem. The current law also places few restrictions on how this trove of information can be used.

The government asserts that it has a right to search through data collected under Section 702 for information about Americans — whom the government is not supposed to target under Section 702 — without a warrant. To justify these “backdoor searches,” it can simply claim that it is seeking “foreign intelligence” or evidence of a crime. The FBI routinely searches through Section 702 information in cases unrelated to national security or where they may not even have the facts necessary to open a criminal investigation.

Instead of taking steps to close this loophole, the House just made the law worse. The bill that advances to the Senate, first introduced by Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), would allow backdoor searches to continue virtually unchecked, even in cases where the FBI does not have an active investigation or merely asserts a foreign intelligence purpose. In addition, Nunes’ bill risks bringing back — and codifying — illegal surveillance practices that the government has used to collect domestic communications that are merely “about” surveillance targets.

This is the wrong approach. Before passing this dangerous bill, the House voted down, in a 233-183 vote, an amendment sponsored by Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) and Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.). That amendment would have required the government to get a warrant when it searches for the information of American citizens and residents and to take steps to end the collection of wholly domestic communications. Such reforms are critical to prevent Section 702 from being used as a tool that can be improperly deployed against activists and other vulnerable communities.

Our country has a checkered past when it comes to surveillance. Broad and unchecked surveillance powers have been used as a tool against activists, government critics, journalists, and minorities. Martin Luther King, Jr., Cesar Chavez, Vietnam war critics, and Muhammad Ali were among those that have been surveilled under the pretext of protecting “national security.”

Given this history, members of Congress and the public should be skeptical of claims that expanding or maintaining warrantless surveillance powers are needed to keep our country safe. And they should be especially wary of providing more power to intelligence agencies in the current environment, where the president has already adopted policies that discriminate and target individuals based on their religion, nationality, and viewpoints.

Call Your Senator

Members of Congress have often publicly expressed concern at the Trump administration’s overreach and discrimination. If senators vote to give the administration greater spying authority, those words will prove awfully hollow.

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Dr. Timothy Leary

Any kind of electronic communication is subject to interception by third and unwanted parties legally or otherwise. If you have any private information to send, don't send it electronically.

Joshua H.

The "or otherwise" part shouldn't be casually dismissed as you have done. Stand up for your rights for crying out loud, before we lose them to the authoritarians in both ruling parties.

Dr. Timothy Leary

The reality is that it just too easy and too much of a temptation for anyone capable of intercepting messages to do so. For years the clean cut, all American, good guys in the F.B.I. were illegally wire taping people and have admitted to doing so. You can only expect more of the same in the future.

Anonymous

What a load of rubbish. The author is totally ignorant to how 702 works.
It does NOT target anyone within the US, nor does it target US persons outside the US.
FISC has time and time again confirmed that the minimisation procedures in place meet the 4th amendment standard perfectly.

The author fails to mention how this expands on anything. It doesn't, it actually leans more on the privacy advocates side.

For an unbiased read, I suggest going to the House website to see how it is changed. Not this fake news rubbish.
Ideally, it would be reauthorised without any amendment apart from removing the sunset date.

Anonymous

How is protecting the 4th Amendment? When they can look up regular citizens, without a warrant. With the information from back doors and scooping up streamed data from the back bones of the internet. Do you really think the NSA is going to discard any information on a private citizens? If you do, you're not looking. They built a multi billion data complex in Utah, why do they need more storage capacity?

Anonymous

You are a moron. If an American communicates with someone outside the country, it is automatically collected. There is no warrant required for the government to get the substance of this communication. This does not meet the 4th Amendment requirement. The 4th requires probable cause. The courts would declare it unconstitutional with the right case. You just have to prove harm which is difficult. The government wants the loophole because it gives them more power. The article is correct. Republicans and democrats both dissented to this bill.

bettergovtguy

Of course, it is really about corporate profits, and capture of our government by corporations. It doesn't help that they have refined electronic surveillance methods, and many internet experts think that the electronic devices we use are sending data to corporate interests.

Dr. Timothy Leary

They "think" this? Doubtless, they are. We are way past 1984.

Dr. Timothy Leary

Here is a business opportunity for all you smart people out there.
Start a company entitled "Custom Codes and Ciphers, Incorporated (C.C.C.I)". You provide to your customers custom designed and randomly generated code books which can be published using desk top publishing techniques. You can also design custom enciphering software. Microsoft Excell can be used as an enciphering tool for people who want to use it that way, and it is readily available.

Anonymous

ACLU. Change your name to LCLU. The Liberal Civil Liberties Union.

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