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Senate Passes PATRIOT Act Reauthorization without Key Privacy Protection

After strong bipartisan support for the Daines-Wyden amendment in the Senate, the House of Representatives must stop Attorney General Bill Barr from spying on Americans' online activity without a warrant.

WASHINGTON - Today, the Senate passed the USA FREEDOM Reauthorization Act (H.R. 6172), which would reauthorize three expired Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) authorities, including Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act. Yesterday, the Senate adopted the Lee-Leahy amendment, which established a meaningful privacy protection for the public, religious groups, and the media.

However, the Senate failed to adopt the Daines-Wyden amendment, which would have made clear the government may not use Section 215 to surveil internet browsing and search histories without a warrant. Today, the Senate also failed to adopt the Paul amendment, which would have prohibited the use of FISA, as well as surveillance conducted under claimed Article II power, against people in the United States or in proceedings against them.

Demand Progress Education Fund and the FreedomWorks Foundation have released a number of materials on Section 215—including visual and written histories of how the government has repeatedly misused this specific authority—at www.Section215.org.

Demand Progress worked closely with leaders in the House and Senate to fight for stronger privacy protections, and led a broad coalition of groups in support of these privacy amendments. On Monday, we released a coalition letter from 36 groups from across the political spectrum—led by Demand Progress, ACLU, and FreedomWorks—urging support for the privacy-protective amendments. Demand Progress also has led a netroots coalition campaign that has generated over 70,000 constituent letters and signatures to lawmakers in the past week in support of the amendments.

The following statement can be attributed to Sean Vitka, senior policy counsel at Demand Progress:

“No committee of jurisdiction marked up or passed the underlying legislation, which remains unsupportable in its current form. Yesterday's votes on the Daines-Wyden and Lee-Leahy amendments make one thing abundantly clear: Members of Congress want to do more to protect their constituents' privacy.

"It is now critically important that the House of Representatives add the Daines-Wyden amendment to the underlying bill. Attorney General Bill Barr personally approved the first known bulk surveillance program targeting people in the United States. That DEA program operated for over two decades, collecting billions of records, but was only publicly revealed two years after it was shut down, in 2015. Just last year, an Inspector General report concluded that Barr initiated the DEA program without first reviewing its legality.

"We cannot wait to find out what Bill Barr's second attempt at a mass-surveillance program looks like, and this is all the more true while Donald Trump occupies the White House. Now that we know a filibuster-proof majority of senators supports prohibiting the government from using the PATRIOT Act to spy on our online activity without a warrant, it would be dangerously irresponsible for the House to pass this reauthorization without that protection."

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