ACLU Urges Congress to Reform U.S. Surveillance Laws

May 12, 2020 11:30 am

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WASHINGTON — In a Fox & Friends TV ad airing now and a letter sent to all senators today, the American Civil Liberties Union is calling on Congress to, at minimum, make three privacy-protective reforms to key government spying powers under the USA FREEDOM Act. The expired powers are under consideration for reauthorization this week.

The three reforms would prevent U.S. intelligence agencies from spying on Americans’ online search and browsing histories under a provision of the Patriot Act that does not require probable cause, strengthen the role of the independent “friend-of-the-court” to the secret intelligence court, and prohibit the use of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act against people in the United States.

“It is clear that our current laws are not enough to protect against unlawful intelligence spying,” said Neema Singh Guliani, ACLU Senior Legislative Counsel. “Congress should pass amendments that make clear that the government can’t snoop on our online search histories without probable cause. Congress must also reform our intelligence courts to ensure that the views of civil liberties experts are heard and that Americans’ constitutional rights are protected.”

The ACLU yesterday also joined a number of groups, including Americans for Prosperity, Demand Progress, the NAACP, FreedomWorks, and Human Rights Watch, in calling on senators to support the privacy-protective amendments. The Fox & Friends TV ad was launched jointly by the ACLU and FreedomWorks.

The ad and letters encourage Congress to:

  • Support an amendment led by Sens. Mike Lee and Patrick Leahy that strengthens the role of independent “friends of the court” to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, ensuring that the court has additional opportunities to hear the views of outside experts;
  • Support an amendment led by Sens. Steve Daines and Ron Wyden that prohibits the use of Section 215 to warrantlessly collect internet search and browsing histories;
  • Support an amendment led by Sen. Rand Paul that prohibits the use of FISA, as well as surveillance conducted under claimed Article II power, against people in the United States or in proceedings against them;
  • Oppose anticipated efforts to weaken the bill or the aforementioned positive amendments.

A report from the Department of Justice Inspector General last year revealed unlawful surveillance of Trump campaign adviser, Carter Page. Subsequent reports by the Inspector General have shown that the errors in the Page case were indicative of systemic deficiencies, with a recent audit of 25 intelligence surveillance applications revealing “apparent errors or inadequately supported facts” in every application.

The ACLU notes in its letter today that it opposes H.R. 6172 in its current form because it fails to address the litany of surveillance abuses that have come to light.

An op-ed by the ACLU’s Guliani and Billy Easley, senior policy analyst with Americans for Prosperity, is here:

The ACLU’s letter to the Senate is here:

The coalition letter to the Senate is here:

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