ACLU, NACDL, and Coalition of Civil Rights and Criminal Justice Groups Urge Congress to Vote “NO” on DEA Surveillance Bill

Instead of Meaningfully Addressing the Overdose Crisis, Cooper Davis Act Incentivizes Online Services to Surveill Users

June 6, 2023 9:00 am

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WASHINGTON — In a letter sent today to the Senate Judiciary Committee, the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers were joined by 14 other criminal justice and civil rights organizations to urge senators to vote no on S. 1080, the Cooper Davis Act. The bill would require private messaging services, social media companies, and even cloud providers to report their users to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) if they find out about certain illegal drug sales.

“This well-intentioned but misguided bill would circumvent critical Fourth Amendment protections and could compound the unjust prosecutions and disparate impacts that are the hallmark of the failed war on drugs,” said Jumana Masa, the director of the Fourth Amendment Center at the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. “Social media companies and other online platforms are not properly positioned to determine who may be selling (or intending to sell) illicit substances. By asking them to enter into a scheme of mandatory and voluntary reporting with the consequence of criminal fines attached, this bill will pressure social media companies to over-report users’ online activity, location data, and other identifying information to the DEA.”

According to the groups, rather than meaningfully addressing a pressing public health crisis, this bill would instead incentivize online services to search through user content and effectively deputizes them as agents of the DEA. The letter goes on to explain how this law would undermine the Fourth Amendment and the Stored Communications Act, as well as the likely disproportionate effect it would have on people of color, LGBTQ+ people, and other marginalized communities.

“This bill would deputize social media and online companies to spy on users’ messages and posts to determine when they believe certain drug-related offenses have occurred, which is certain to exacerbate the harms already faced by marginalized communities in the criminal legal system,” said Cody Venzke, senior policy counsel at ACLU. “Law enforcement agencies are already taking advantage of the massive amounts of data that are collected on us by private companies, buying it from data brokers, or obtaining it from online services under already weak privacy laws. Instead of closing the loopholes that police are exploiting to get around the Fourth Amendment, this bill goes in the opposite direction.”

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