ACLU Urges Congress to Vote NO on Section 702 Reauthorization if Widely Supported Civil Liberties Protections Aren’t Included

Vital reforms to Section 702 include safeguards that would require a warrant to access Americans’ data

February 14, 2024 1:00 pm

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WASHINGTON — As Speaker Johnson prepares to bring a new Section 702 reauthorization bill to the floor, the American Civil Liberties Union is urging Congress to either pass fundamental reforms to the program, or vote no. This latest effort in the House could include a “secret session” — an anti-democratic option that uses “national security” as an excuse to keep the public in the dark. In all of U.S. history, the House has only met in secret sessions four times.

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. 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. H.R. 7320, the reauthorization bill currently being considered, does not include any of these critical reforms.

“There is no question that this mass warrantless surveillance of Americans violates the Fourth Amendment,” said Kia Hamadanchy, senior policy counsel at ACLU. “If the necessary reform amendments are not adopted, the House of Representatives should vote against reauthorizing Section 702.”

Members are expected to offer an array of amendments that would protect Americans’ privacy and civil rights, including:

  • Preventing the government from circumventing Americans’ Fourth Amendment rights by purchasing data from data brokers that would otherwise require a warrant to obtain.
  • Requiring a warrant for searches of Americans’ communications in Section 702 databases — often referred to as closing the “backdoor search” loophole.
  • Prohibiting the government from restarting its “abouts” collection, which the government shut down years ago due to persistent overcollection of Americans’ communications — but which the NSA retains the ability to restart.

The ACLU and its partners are asking members to support amendments that would rein in mass warrantless surveillance, and to reject amendments that would unacceptably and unnecessarily expand this spying.

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