“Dangerous and Unconstitutional”: ACLU Slams House Intelligence Committee Plan to Use Section 702 to Spy on Pro-Palestinian Protestors Without a Warrant

March 12, 2024 6:00 pm

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WASHINGTON — House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Turner has been secretly trying to sway his colleagues to reauthorize Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act without reforms by saying they could use it to warrantlessly surveil anti-war protestors. According to a new report from WIRED, Rep. Turner hosted multiple closed-door presentations for House lawmakers late last year where he portrayed innocent people protesting outside of Senate Majority Leader Schumer’s house as having possible ties to Hamas in an effort to kill the popular and bipartisan privacy reforms that civil society has long advocated for. This news comes just weeks after the American Civil Liberties Union warned lawmakers against using this very authority to surveil Americans participating in protests about Gaza.

“In the United States, a political leader’s disagreement with the views of a protest movement does not give the government license to investigate those protesters, and Chairman Turner knows that,” said Kia Hamadanchy, senior policy counsel at ACLU. “It is clear our leaders view the ability to conduct warrantless searches based on vague and unfounded claims of foreign influence as a feature of the program — not a bug. That’s precisely why Congress must not reauthorize Section 702 without the fundamental reforms needed to prevent these egregious abuses.”

Section 702 is an invasive surveillance authority, which the FBI has repeatedly misused to search the online conversations of American protestors, journalists, political donors, and even members of Congress without a warrant. Just last year, it was reported that the FBI misused this surveillance authority to unlawfully query 133 Black Lives Matters protestors as part of a baseless investigation to determine whether they were subject to foreign influence.

Members of both political parties have raised serious concerns with the government’s persistent and widespread violations of this law, and have been pushing their fellow members to pass reforms — like requiring a warrant — that would better protect Americans’ civil liberties. Unless a deal is reached, Section 702 will expire in mid-April.

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