Defending Rights & Dissent joined with over two dozen civil rights and civil liberties groups in sending a letter to the House Judiciary Committee asking for reforms ending domestic law enforcement’s unrestricted use of data gathered under Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
The letter, which was initiated by the Constitution Project, points out that § 702 “was passed to combat threats from hostile foreign powers and international terrorism, and was not intended for domestic law enforcement investigation of U.S. persons for matters unrelated to foreign intelligence.”
In spite of this fact, the FBI has been conducting “backdoor searches” of communications collected under §702, i.e. looking at the communications of U.S. persons without a warrant or even suspicion of wrongdoing.
Such warrantless searches are in and of themselves unacceptable. However, these searches pose particular concerns:
Unrestricted law enforcement use of 702 data also amplifies existing concerns regarding selective targeting of communities of color, religious minorities, and activists[…]
The potential misuse of Section 702 is too serious a threat to ignore given America’s history of using surveillance tools to target and persecute persons of color, religious minorities, and dissidents. The government’s use of an ostensibly counterintelligence program, COINTELPRO, for surveillance against civil rights leaders and anti-war activists is a major reason FISA was originally created. But given recent trends of targeting surveillance at Muslim communities5 and Black Lives Matter protests,6 the risk of future abuse remains a threat, and requires that stronger checks and protections for Section 702 be put into place.
The letter urges the committee to
support reforms that require a judicial warrant for Section 702 U.S. person queries to close the backdoor search loophole; limits all law enforcement use of Section 702 by federal, state, and local entities to foreign intelligence purposes; and clarify the definition of derivative use so that any law enforcement use of Section 702 data within these exceptions is subject to proper notice requirements to defendants.
The American Civil Liberties Union, American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, Brennan Center for Justice, Color of Change, Council on American-Islamic Relations, and NAACP were also amongst the over two dozen signatories.