Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Protesters carried signs at a march against mass surveillance on Oct. 26, 2013 in Washington, D.C.

Protesters carried signs at a march against mass surveillance on Oct. 26, 2013 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: EFF/Flickr/cc)

With Nation Focused on Coronavirus, Rights Groups Warn Senate Against Handing Trump 'Terrifying' Spy Powers

"It's unthinkable to extend these spying powers to the same agencies that have so often sidestepped safeguards and ignored Americans' fundamental privacy rights."

Jessica Corbett

Ahead of a vote that could take place in the Senate as soon as Monday evening, civil liberties groups and federal lawmakers critical of mass surveillance spoke out against House-approved legislation that would reauthorize "abusive" and "dangerous" U.S. government spying powers that expired Sunday.

"If McConnell's push through the Senate succeeds, it would renew the government's power to warrantlessly acquire billions of data points on every person in the United States."
—Sandra Fulton, Free Press Action

The Democrat-held House was widely criticized last week for passing the USA FREEDOM Reauthorization Act (H.R. 6172), a bipartisan compromise negotiated by leaders in the lower chamber that includes the reauthorization of Section 215 powers that Congress established under the USA PATRIOT Act in 2001, which federal agencies have used to justify the collection of Americans' phone records.

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), a longtime critic of government spying powers, took to Twitter Monday to speak out against the new bill and note that there is opposition on both sides of the aisle:

As public concern over the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic continued to mount, civil liberties advocates expressed alarm that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) could push through the reauthorization bill with limited scrutiny.

Sandra Fulton, government relations director for Free Press Action, wrote for Common Dreams Monday that "opposition to this legislation is gaining momentum, which is why McConnell is pushing so aggressively for a vote today while so much of the nation is focused on the coronavirus crisis."

According to Fulton:

While the bill makes some minor reforms, they are insufficient. The USA FREEDOM Reauthorization Act fails to put in place stronger reforms favored by privacy, racial-justice, and civil-liberty advocates, most of whom support an alternative bill, the Safeguarding Americans' Private Records Act, introduced earlier this year with bipartisan support.

Where reforms are incorporated into the reauthorization act, they are primarily half-measures that leave huge loopholes that can be easily exploited by spying agencies. The bill includes symbolic provisions specifically tailored to address issues raised by the surveillance of [President Donald] Trump aide Carter Page, it bizarrely fails to extend those protections to everyone else living in America. And while the bill prevents the government from collecting location information without a warrant, it leaves other highly sensitive information, like internet browsing and search history, vulnerable to invasive government spying without a warrant.

Fulton argued that "it's unthinkable to extend these spying powers to the same agencies that have so often sidestepped safeguards and ignored Americans' fundamental privacy rights," and urged voters to demand broader reforms and restrictions on U.S. government surveillance authority, especially given that Trump is in the White House.

"If McConnell's push through the Senate succeeds, it would renew the government's power to warrantlessly acquire billions of data points on every person in the United States," she warned. "These are terrifying powers to hand to President Trump, considering his record of surveilling and abusing marginalized communities—but as we've seen, even some of the president's supporters have complained that these overbroad powers were used against the Trump campaign, too."

Digital rights group Fight for the Future encouraged voters—particularly those who may be stuck at home due to widespread school and business closures resulting from the COVID-19 outbreak—to contact their senators and encourage them to reject the "dangerous" reauthorization legislation.

The non-profit Arab American Institute highlighted some details of the legislation in a series of tweets Monday, concluding that it "does not adequately address the constitutional shortcomings of granting sweeping surveillance authorities to the federal government." Calling for further debate and reform, the group urged the upper chamber to reject the bill.


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

... We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

Human Rights Defenders Warn Biden Border Policy 'Quickly Transforming Into Trump 2.0'

Like his predecessor, President Joe Biden now being accused of "using racist, xenophobic tropes about immigrants to weaponize Covid-19 against migrants and asylum-seekers."

Jon Queally ·


'Bombshell': Israeli Spyware Used to Hack iPhones of US State Department Officials

Calling the Israel-based spyware maker NSO Group an "in-plain-sight national security threat," one expert warned that "a multi-agency investigation is immediately needed."

Jessica Corbett ·


US Progressive Caucus Hails Honduran Election as Chance for 'New Chapter' in Relations

"We encourage the Biden administration to use this opportunity to make a clean break with previous presidential administrations, which worked to ensure that the 2009 coup d'état succeeded."

Brett Wilkins ·


'The Facts of This Case Are So Egregious': Parents of Michigan School Shooter Charged in Killings

"There were a lot of things that could have been so simple to prevent," the Oakland County prosecutor said of the mother and father now being sought by law enforcement.

Kenny Stancil ·


Health Minister Says 'Highly Transmissible' Omicron Hitting Young Children Hard in South Africa

In South Africa's worst-affected province, children under the age of five now make up the second-largest group being admitted to hospitals.

Julia Conley ·

Support our work.

We are independent, non-profit, advertising-free and 100% reader supported.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values.
Direct to your inbox.

Subscribe to our Newsletter.


Common Dreams, Inc. Founded 1997. Registered 501(c3) Non-Profit | Privacy Policy
Common Dreams Logo