ACLU Comment on Introduction of Bipartisan Bill to Rein in Government Surveillance

November 17, 2017 3:30 pm

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WASHINGTON — Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) introduced S. 2158, the Senate version of the USA Liberty Act of 2017 today, a bill to rein in warrantless government surveillance conducted under Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).

Section 702 has been used by the government to collect hundreds of millions of communications a year without a warrant, including Americans’ phone calls, text messages, emails, social media content, and more.

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

“This bill is a dramatic improvement over the House version of this legislation. For years, the NSA, CIA, and FBI have engaged in illegal ‘backdoor’ searches, deliberately looking for and accessing Americans’ private information collected under Section 702 without a warrant. These searches are unconstitutional, inconsistent with Section 702 itself, and open the door to abusive spying focused on government critics, minorities, or even journalists.

“This bill would help to rein in these illegal searches by requiring the government to get a warrant when they deliberately search for and then subsequently seek to view Americans’ private communications. .

“While this bill does not address all the constitutional concerns with Section 702, it represents an important step forward from the dismal status quo. The ACLU supports this bill, and urges Congress to ensure its reforms become law.”

In addition to helping close the “backdoor search loophole,” the bill would prohibit the government from engaging in “about” collection — an unlawful practice that has previously been used by the NSA to collect Americans’ communications that are about a foreigner under surveillance.

The ACLU urges improvements to the bill that would require a court order to access metadata collected under Section 702, narrow collection, and ensure the government provides appropriate notice.

Congress is currently considering several bills in advance of the Section 702 reauthorization deadline. Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) have introduced S.1997, the USA Rights Act, which completely closes the backdoor search loophole, ends the collection of known domestic communications, and takes steps to ensure that the government provides notice to individuals who have Section 702 information used against them. The ACLU supports this bill.

Reps. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) and John Conyers (D-Mich.) introduced H.R. 3989, the House version of the USA Liberty Act, which the ACLU has strongly criticized for failing to close the “backdoor search loophole.”

Sens. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) introduced S. 2010, the FISA Amendments Reauthorization Act of 2017, which would expand surveillance under Section 702 and fails to include critical reforms. The ACLU opposes this bill.

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