Last week, the Senate passed the USA Freedom Reauthorization Act (H.R. 6172) to reinstate three PATRIOT Act surveillance authorities, including the notorious Section 215. To its credit, the Senate adopted a beneficial amendment to strengthen oversight of the FBI and the FISA court, and failed by only one vote to adopt an amendment to stop the FBI from looking over our shoulders while we’re online.
It’s that amendment that was narrowly defeated, the Wyden-Daines amendment, that we’re going to focus our advocacy on as the bill makes its way back to the House. We believe support in the House is strong for a provision that would prohibit Section 215 from being used for warrantless collection of Americans’ internet website browsing and internet search history information.
Right now, it’s up to Pelosi and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy to protect our online activity from the FBI’s prying eyes. Along with over 50 civil society organizations, we’ve sent a letter to Pelosi and McCarthy to only move H.R. 6172 with the inclusion of the Wyden-Daines amendment, or to provide an opportunity to vote on the amendment on the floor.
Please join with us in demanding protection of our online activity.
Thank Action Here.
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Read our letter to Pelosi and McCarthy:
May 18, 2020
Speaker Pelosi, Minority Leader McCarthy, Chairman McGovern, Ranking Member Cole, Chairman Nadler, and Ranking Member Jordan:
On May 13, a bipartisan majority of 59 Senators — 24 Republicans and 35 Democrats — voted in support of the Wyden-Daines amendment to H.R. 6172, the USA FREEDOM Reauthorization Act of 2020. Though two more Democratic Senators supported the measure, one being a cosponsor, they were unable to be present for the vote.
Thankfully, support for the underlying policy is now abundantly clear, both within Congress and among the public: the FBI should not be allowed to use the PATRIOT Act to surveil Americans’ online activity without a warrant. Internet search and browsing history is extremely revealing in nature and the Fourth Amendment requires a warrant to obtain this information. As the Supreme Court in Riley noted, “An Internet search and browsing history, for example, can be found on an Internet-enabled phone and could reveal an individual’s private interests or concerns — perhaps a search for certain symptoms of disease, coupled with frequent visits to WebMD.” Section 215 was never intended to allow the government to collect such information, and the Wyden-Daines amendment would make this prohibition crystal clear. Given the government’s failure to disclose whether it believes it can collect this information under Section 215 already, the bright-line rule reflected in the Wyden-Daines amendment is sorely needed.
Accordingly, we urge you to only move H.R. 6172 with the inclusion of the Wyden-Daines amendment, or to provide an opportunity to vote on the amendment on the floor. This is particularly critical because, unlike the Senate, members of the House were denied any opportunity to debate amendments to cure the deficiencies in H.R. 6172. Additionally, reports released since House passage of H.R. 6172 have revealed additional surveillance abuses, which further underscore the need for additional reforms.
After H.R. 6172 moved through the House without the opportunity to amend it or cure its defects, and after both of its original sponsors announced support for more significant privacy reforms, 136 members voted against the measure. 65 Republicans, 70 Democrats, and 1 Independent voted against it because it failed to sufficiently protect privacy. Therefore, with the Wyden-Daines amendment, it is likely that the USA FREEDOM Reauthorization Act would pass with more support than before. This would be a welcome moment of bipartisan agreement, in defense of all Americans’ liberties, during a trying period in our history.
This reform is precisely designed to stave off the kind of scandals that led to a dramatic loss of trust in United States intelligence agencies over the past two decades.
Indeed, this would help address serious concerns among the public that civil liberties are at a heightened risk during this time of crisis. This is an acute concern for the many groups that the FBI has wrongfully targeted in the past, including activists, communities of color, and the press.
With ample support for this measure secured in the Senate, the decision to seize this moment in defense of Americans’ civil liberties is exclusively in your hands.
ACCESS of WNY
American Booksellers for Free Expression
American Civil Liberties Union
American Family Voices
American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA)
American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee
Arab American Civic Council
Arab American Institute
Center for Biological Diversity
Center for Democracy & Technology
Council on American-Islamic Relations
Defending Rights & Dissent
Due Process Institute
Fight for the Future
Free Press Action
Free Speech Coalition
Freedom of the Press Foundation
Government Accountability Project
Government Information Watch
Human Rights Watch
Just Foreign Policy
Kurt Vonnegut Museum and Library
Movement Alliance Project
Muslim Justice League
National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)
National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers
National Coalition Against Censorship
New America’s Open Technology Institute
People For the American Way
Poligon Education Fund
Restore The Fourth
Society of Professional Journalists
Union of Concerned Scientists
Yemeni Alliance Committee
Cc: Chairman Schiff
Ranking Member Nunes
House of Representatives
 Riley v. California, 573 U.S. 373, 395-96 (2014).
 OFFICE OF THE INSPECTOR GENERAL, U.S.DEP’T OF JUSTICE, MANAGEMENT ADVISORY MEMORANDUM FOR THE DIRECTOR OF THE FEDERAL BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION REGARDING THE EXECUTION OF WOODS PROCEDURES FOR APPLICATIONS FILED WITH THE FOREIGN INTELLIGENCE SURVEILLANCE COURT RELATING TO U.S. PERSONS, at 3 (March 2020), https://oig.justice.gov/reports/2020/a20047.pdf.