Civil liberties advocates called on the House of Representatives to vote against reauthorizing the U.S. government to spy on citizens without a warrant, as lawmakers headed toward a vote on re-upping Section 702 of the FISA Amendments on Thursday.
"The House should soundly reject this bill, unless it is amended to provide real protections for Americans' privacy," said Elizabeth Goitein of the Brennan Center for Justice in a statement.
"By codifying a warrantless surveillance program into law, and giving the U.S. government access to millions of Americans' private emails, text messages and phone calls, S. 139 further jeopardizes the privacy rights for those communities."—Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Mich.)
The law is scheduled to expire in April, and privacy rights groups argue it's allowed the NSA to monitor communications by Americans without obtaining a warrant, though its officially stated purpose is to target non-citizens living abroad.
Thursday's vote on the FISA Amendments Reauthorization Act (S. 139) would renew the law for six years and would grant the government the additional right to complete "about" collections—the surveillance of any citizen who is mentioned in a communication that the NSA has collected. The agency would only need a warrant to begin such monitoring if the person was thought to be involved in criminal activity not related to national security.
"These protections must include a warrant requirement any time the government seeks to read Americans' e-mails or listen to their phone calls, as well as an end to so-called 'about' collection that sweeps in tens of thousands of wholly domestic communications," said Goitein.
Dozens of members of Congress agree—any effort to extend NSA— EFF (@EFF) January 11, 2018
surveillance must not infringe on our Fourth Amendment right to privacy.
Call your representative today to save privacy.https://t.co/dVc3rx2YLf
Several lawmakers have joined critics in speaking out against the new understanding of Section 702.
In America, if a program is unconstitutional, government cannot execute it. Full stop.— Ted Lieu (@tedlieu) January 11, 2018
I urge my colleagues to reject the unconstitutional Nunes FISA ACT reauthorization, unless it is amended by #USARIGHTSAct to require a warrant before spying on Americans. https://t.co/NpC5VKWNPE
Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Mich.) also expressed deep concerns on Wednesday regarding the impact mass domestic surveillance would have on minority communities.
"In the last several years, we've seen Americans' civil rights and civil liberties rolled back, and religious minorities, immigrants and communities of color targeted most acutely," Ellison said in a statement. "By codifying a warrantless surveillance program into law, and giving the U.S. government access to millions of Americans' private emails, text messages and phone calls, S. 139 further jeopardizes the privacy rights for those communities."
President Donald Trump posted an early-morning tweet slamming the legislation, arguing that it was used to investigate former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn's communications with Russia.
“House votes on controversial FISA ACT today.” This is the act that may have been used, with the help of the discredited and phony Dossier, to so badly surveil and abuse the Trump Campaign by the previous administration and others?— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 11, 2018
After the president posted a follow-up tweet saying that the U.S. needs "foreign surveillance of foreign bad guys on foreign land," Glenn Greenwald of the Intercept surmised that officials had informed him that his administration backs Section 702's reauthorization.
And .... someone reminded Trump that his administration actually supports the pro-domestic-surveillance bill that his prior tweet condemned, leading to this ringing endorsement of it: https://t.co/H3LaAXbN0C— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) January 11, 2018
A bipartisan group of legislators including Reps. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) and Justin Amash (R-Mich.) along with Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) held a press conference on Wednesday introducing the USA RIGHTS Act Amendment, which would require the NSA to obtain a warrant before surveilling Americans' communications and would prohibit "about" collections.
"The American people deserve better from their own government than to have their Internet activity swept up in warrantless, unlimited searches that ignore the Fourth Amendment," said Paul.