Two dozen advocacy groups—citing their "deep concerns regarding the possible dragnet surveillance of domestic internet activity"—sent a letter to congressional leaders Monday demanding lawmakers reject in upcoming must-pass budget legislation the reauthorization of controversial Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act authorities.
The letter (pdf)—signed by the American Civil Liberties Union, Demand Progress, Freedom of the Press Foundation, the NAACP, and others—singles out "the lone wolf, roving wiretap, and business records authorities" of Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act.
Recent events, the groups wrote, have only amplified concerns.
It has been more than 6 months since key #FISA provisions failed to secure Congressional reauthorization. Recent events show that concerns about these programs are still warranted based on the continued failure of agencies to comply with existing protections. 1/3— DueProcessInstitute (@iDueProcess) September 14, 2020
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The letter references as one example a federal court ruling earlier this month that the government's bulk collection of Americans' phone records was illegal. Adding to concerns is Attorney General William Barr and Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe's failure to respond to questions from Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) about whether the executive branch is "secretly relying on its alleged inherent power to continue" surveillance operations without congressional oversight, which the senators said would amount to "programmatic Fourth Amendment violations at tremendous scale."
What's more, says the letter, "government witnesses... have refused to substantively answer similar questions from Representative Lofgren, Senator Wyden, and Ranking Member Feinstein."
According to the groups, "Any extension of these expired FISA authorities is controversial and more appropriately considered under traditional authorizing legislation, not a Continuing Resolution, a Covid emergency bill, or any other comparable legislative vehicle."
The demands come as the House returns from recess, and with "bipartisan Covid-19 relief negotiations on ice," as Roll Coll reported Monday, "congressional leaders have turned their attention to crafting a continuing resolution to keep the government open before the new fiscal year starts Oct. 1."