ACLU Comment on House Committee Vote on Surveillance Bill

November 8, 2017 3:00 pm

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WASHINGTON — The House Judiciary Committee voted today to pass the USA Liberty Act, which would modify and extend the government’s spying powers under Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act before it expires at the end of the year. The bill must be passed by the full House before going to the Senate.

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

“Though this bill has positive elements, it must be improved as it moves forward. Disappointingly, the committee failed to adopt improvements that would help close the ‘backdoor search loophole.’ The loophole has been used by the government to read and listen to Americans’ emails, phone calls, and text messages collected under Section 702 without a warrant. As a result, the bill risks codifying current illegal practices into law without adequate limits to protect Americans’ constitutional rights.

“Existing law provides no justification for allowing the government to search for Americans’ communications for ‘foreign intelligence’ purposes without a warrant. Yet, this is precisely what this bill would allow. We urge Congress to remedy this problem as this bill advances.”

The bill was originally introduced by members of the House Judiciary Committee, including Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) and Ranking Member John Conyers (D-Mich.). It would require the government to obtain a warrant before viewing content collected under Section 702 in certain criminal contexts only, but continues to allow access to this information for “foreign intelligence” and other purposes. In addition, it would ensure that the government does not restart its practice of collecting information that is not to or from a surveillance target until 2023.

There are other proposals pending in Congress that would help close the backdoor search loophole. The bipartisan USA RIGHTS Act would require the government to get a warrant before searching Section 702 data for information about Americans. Similarly, an amendment proposed by Sen. Dianne Feinstein would require the government to get a warrant before searching for and accessing the content of information collected under Section 702.

The ACLU recommends common sense improvements to the bill that would protect Americans’ civil liberties, including 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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