ACLU Comment on Draft of Surveillance Reform Legislation

October 4, 2017 6:15 pm

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WASHINGTON – A discussion draft of the USA Liberty Act of 2017 that will be introduced by members of the House Judiciary Committee, including Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) and Ranking Members John Conyers (D-Mich.), was released today. The bill would extend Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) with reforms, which is set to expire at the end of the year.

The proposed bill would require the government to obtain a warrant before viewing content collected under Section 702 in certain criminal contexts, but continues to allow access to this information for broad “foreign intelligence” purposes without a warrant. The bill also prohibits “about” collection until September 2023. “About” collection is an unlawful practice the NSA employed until April 2017 that allows for warrantless spying on Americans’ communications that are about a foreigner under surveillance.

Neema Singh Guliani, legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, said:

“While the bill contains positive provisions that are an improvement over current practice, it falls short of what is needed to protect individuals from warrantless government surveillance under Section 702. Its most glaring deficiency is that it only partially closes the so-called ‘backdoor search loophole.’

“The bill would still allow the CIA, NSA, FBI, and other agencies to search through emails, text messages, and phone calls for information about people in the U.S. without a probable cause warrant from a judge. Those worried that current or future presidents will use Section 702 to spy on political opponents, surveil individuals based on false claims that their religion makes them a national security threat, or chill freedom of speech should be concerned that these reforms do not go far enough.

“We urge members of the House Judiciary Committee to strengthen this bill as it moves forward.”

The ACLU recommends common-sense improvements to the bill that would protect Americans’ civil liberties by completely closing the backdoor search loophole that allows government officials to use and search for data of individuals in the U.S. without a warrant, ensuring notice is provided to individuals who have Section 702 information used against them, narrowing collection, and requiring increased transparency.

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