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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#6

Funny how Rand Paul is behind 702 Reform, and he's pretty far from any definition of 'liberal' I've ever read or heard of...? END 702!

Anonymous

Using Webster's Dictionary: the ACLU is actually MORE constitutionally-conservative than the Party of Abraham Lincoln led by Trump.

From a constitutional rule of law perspective, it's conservative to "comply" with the supreme law of the land. It's constitutionally "liberal" to violate the supreme law, without first enacting a constitutional amendment.

Party of Lincoln leaders that adopted torture techniques from the Spanish Inquisition is "liberal" for American style government. Guantanamo Bay's gulag is "liberal". Stop & Frisk is a "liberal" view of the Fourth Amendment. Officials policing the First Amendment on Facebook and social media is "liberal". Destroying Geneva Conventions protections for U.S. troops in future conflicts is "liberal".

Almost alone after 9/11, the ACLU was very conservative on the constitutional rule of law that "restrains" government power!

Anonymous

At minimum, the U.S. Supreme Court has a responsibility and duty to provide oversight over executive branch domestic spying. The high-court should demand hard numbers - under penalty of perjury - on the number of persons blacklisted by state Fusion Centers and the punitive measures taken by officials and contractors.

For example, due to the use of GPS, cell-tracking and other tracking technologies, some blacklistees have been stalked and harassed in traffic for more than 5000 days. That same individual may be harassed by 50-100 cops or officials in a single day using electronic alerts. Since arrest and conviction is never the goal, these cops and officials are committing felony crimes.

Since officials - including cops - are merely stalking and terrorizing their fellow citizens there is no "legal standing" in court and virtually no record of these felony crimes by officials. If a blacklistee travels, by car, across the nation, every time their cell-phone passes a cell-tower it alerts a harrassment squad in every city and county in the United States. Some cops are professionals but some are "Barney Fife" that think you are guilty. They follow you to restaurants and hotels defaming blacklisted Americans.

Since the U.S. Supreme Court never finds out about the true scale of Cointelpro style blacklisting, this evil has continued for over a decade.

If the high-court were interested they could simply study the "Search-to-Conviction" rate of Fusion Centers and the U.S. Department of Justice. When the terrorism-conviction rate is less than 1%, that means innocent people are being stalked and harassed.

Since these innocent Americans are not on the record - by design - the U.S. Supreme Court needs to demand that data under penalty of perjury. Executive Branch agencies have denied "legal standing" to these people.

American

Indeed

Anonymous

It's important for Americans and the U.S. Supreme Court to understand the history of unconstitutional domestic spying:

In early American history, domestic spying and blacklisting started out as somewhat "overt" with the Red Scare and McCarthyism. Blacklisting actually had very robust and very public debates in Congress and on national television so voters could see how dangerous it was. CBS journalist, Edward R. Murrow, totally discredited both Joe McCarthy and tactics by the FBI/DOJ on national television.

After the FBI/DOJ were publicly humiliated on national television, government agencies devolved into "covert" domestic spying and blacklisting against their own fellow Americans with programs and tactics like CoinTelPro.

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