When the NSA vacuums up vast amounts of data from the internet under the authority of Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act, they claim their spying is aimed at non-U.S. persons, and that it has something to do with terrorism or foreign intelligence gathering. But the vast dragnet also sweeps up data of millions of Americans, and the government is allowed to comb through that data without a warrant. It’s a giant loophole the civil liberties community has been fighting to close as Congress considers reauthorizing Section 702.
Last week, members of the House Judiciary Committee, including Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) and Ranking Member John Conyers (D-Mich.), introduced a reauthorization bill cynically named the USA Liberty Act, which would make changes to and extend the government’s spying powers under Section 702, which is set to expire at the end of the year. The bill is deeply flawed, and although it is being touted as a reform bill, it falls seriously short in its supposed reforms.
A broad coalition including Defending Rights & Dissent, the American Civil Liberties Union, the NAACP, and the Freedom of the Press Foundation sent a letter to the leaders of House Judiciary Committee today saying that the groups cannot support the current version of a surveillance reform bill introduced last week.
The letter, signed by over 40 groups, urges the committee to strengthen the bill, which fails to completely address concerns with the so-called “backdoor search loophole.”
“This bill doesn’t do enough to protect Americans’ privacy and it must be improved,” said Neema Singh Guliani, legislative counsel with the ACLU. “As written, the bill still allows the government to read emails, text messages, and other communications of Americans without a probable cause warrant or even a shred of evidence suggesting that the person has information necessary to protect against an imminent threat. This glaring loophole fails to address concerns by the public that Section 702 could be used to improperly surveil journalists, government critics, activists, and other private citizens.”