ACLU Statement on Congress Passing Bill that Massively Expands the Government’s Power to Spy on Americans Without a Warrant

This bill would reauthorize Section 702 surveillance for two more years without any of the necessary reforms to protect Americans’ civil liberties

April 12, 2024 1:10 pm

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WASHINGTON — The House of Representatives passed a bill today that will reauthorize Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act for two years, expand the federal government’s power to secretly spy on Americans without a warrant, and create a new form of “extreme vetting” of people traveling to the United States.

When the government wants to obtain Americans’ private information, the Fourth Amendment requires it to go to court and obtain a warrant. The government has claimed that the purpose of Section 702 is to allow the government to warrantlessly surveil non-U.S. citizens abroad for foreign intelligence purposes, even as Americans’ communications are routinely swept up. In recent years, the law has morphed into a domestic surveillance tool, with FBI agents using Section 702 databases to conduct millions of invasive searches for Americans’ communications — including those of protesters, racial justice activists, 19,000 donors to a congressional campaign, journalists, and even members of Congress — without a warrant.

“Despite what some members would like the public to believe, Section 702 has been abused under presidents from both political parties and it has been used to unlawfully surveil the communications of Americans across the political spectrum,” said Kia Hamadanchy, senior policy counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union. “By expanding the government’s surveillance powers without adding a warrant requirement that would protect Americans, the House has voted to allow the intelligence agencies to violate the civil rights and liberties of Americans for years to come. The Senate must add a warrant requirement and rein in this out-of-control government spying.”

In the last year alone, the FBI conducted over 200,000 warrantless “backdoor” searches of Americans’ communications. The standard for conducting these backdoor searches is so low that, without any clear connection to national security or foreign intelligence, an FBI agent can type in an American’s name, email address, or phone number, and pull up whatever communications the FBI’s Section 702 surveillance has collected over the past five years.

The House passed all the amendments to expand this invasive surveillance that were pushed by leaders of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI), the committee closest to the intelligence agencies asking for this power. The bipartisan amendment that would have required the government to obtain a warrant before searching Section 702 data for Americans’ communications failed 212-212.

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