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Reps. Davidson, Jayapal, and Three Dozen+ Allies Demand Critical Answers Regarding Unauthorized, Mass Domestic Surveillance

Is the administration conducting mass domestic surveillance without congress's authorization?

WASHINGTON - Yesterday, Representatives Warren Davidson (R-OH) and Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), joined by 37 of their colleagues, sent a bipartisan letter to Attorney General William Barr and Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe demanding answers to critical questions about possible mass surveillance of people in the United States. A full list of signers, which includes five committee chairs and a member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, is appended. The letter is available here [URL: https://s3.amazonaws.com/demandprogress/letters/Davidson_Jayapal__Letter_9.24.20.pdf].

The Members asked the government to explain whether it is conducting mass domestic surveillance without congressional authorization. Specifically, they ask whether the administration is asserting that it has inherent executive authority, and thus doesn't need Congress's approval, for mass domestic surveillance, as well as whether it is occurring without congressional or judicial oversight. The Members set an October 6 deadline to receive a response. Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Mike Lee (R-UT) concluded such lawless surveillance would be illegal in a related letter in July.

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

"Representatives Davidson, Jayapal, and their allies have fought the Patriot Act back to the core rot eroding the people's right to privacy. This is a long fight and it is not over, but the trail now appears to lead back to rogue legal theories founded upon horrifyingly broad claims of inherent executive authority to conduct mass surveillance domestically. This intelligence surveillance would happen in the absence of the law, the courts, and even the suspicion of wrongdoing. This is how the government secretly started Stellarwind, the most stunningly illegal surveillance program in recent history.

What is at stake today is akin to when William Barr, during his first tenure as Attorney General, subjected millions of people in the United States to 21 years of phone records surveillance under the Drug Enforcement Administration, none of which saw the light of day until 2015. As far as we know, the DEA managed to stop any defense attorneys from challenging the obvious unconstitutionality of such surveillance by misleading prosecutors and the courts about where the records came from, euphemistically termed 'parallel construction.' Today, the DEA is flying planes over protesters.

If the government is blanketing the United States in warrantless surveillance, this is how they would — and have — done it.

Yet despite of the serious oversight the public deserves — and has been demanding loudly for years — we've instead seen the House and Senate Intelligence Committees protecting their turf and working to ensure that the rest of Congress has no say about what the intelligence agencies are doing domestically. While Richard Burr tries to signal Congressional acquiescence, Adam Schiff has been ensuring Congress can't vote on it at all.

We look forward to candid answers about how the government has interpreted the law and how far secret claims of inherent executive authority have embedded foreign intelligence surveillance into our daily lives. In the absence of those answers, Burr and Schiff's unwavering obstruction of real surveillance reform will further isolate them."

Context:

  • In March, then-Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Richard Burr (R-NC) claimed on the Senate floor that President Trump "can do all of this, without Congress's permission, with no guardrails" pursuant to Executive Order 12333. This was during debate over whether any members of Congress would have any chance to amend a Patriot Act reauthorization that itself provided for some domestic records surveillance.
  • In May, Chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence Adam Schiff (D-CA) vitiated a broadly supported protection against this unacknowledged use to allow for, in Senator Wyden's (D-OR) words, "dragnet collection of online activity" of Americans. Schiff accomplished this by cutting Dreamers and other immigrants out of the protection, pointing toward the alarming possibility that the government is presuming data in the United States does not belong to United States persons.
  • A number of other extraordinary actions by the Chairmen of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees stoke further concerns. Demand Progress led a letter dissecting these maneuvers in August, joined by Americans for Prosperity, Free Press Action, Fight for the Future, FreedomWorks, and others.

Demand Progress Education Fund and the FreedomWorks Foundation have released numerous materials regarding the expired authorities at www.section215.org, including the government's long history of abusing Section 215.

Signers of letter today's letter:
 

Warren Davidson

Pramila Jayapal

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Demand Justice is a left-of-center advocacy group created in early 2018 that aims to influence the political leanings of America’s courts by supporting the appointment of liberal judicial nominees and opposing right-of-center nominees. The organization acts primarily through media campaigns against nominated and unconfirmed judicial nominees.

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