Senate USA Freedom Act an improvement, but further reforms still needed
WASHINGTON, DC – A new surveillance reform bill introduced this week in the Senate makes significant improvements to bulk collections of business records and increases transparency, but falls short in reforming the oft-abused FISA section 702 authority program, said U.S. Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) today.
In particular, the bill would continue to allow warrantless searches of Americans' emails, photos, documents, or other files contained in communications swept up by intelligence agencies under section 702 authority.
"Chairman Leahy's bill is an encouraging improvement in many respects, and I applaud him for that. But I am disappointed it omits an essential restriction on the collection and use of American communications under 702 authority," said Logren. "When the House of Representatives had its first opportunity to debate and vote on this issue last month, it overwhelmingly passed an amendment to the Department of Defense Apportions Act to prohibit warrantless searches of U.S. persons data.
"The Senate now has an opportunity to build on this progress. The Senate should join the House on this very important issue and stand up for the Constitution and the American people, as the House has done, by shutting the backdoor on warrantless spying on Americans."
The greater part of the mass surveillance of Americans reported in the news has taken place under the FISA section 702 authority. In fact, a recent Washington Post investigation found that 90% of captured communications reviewed by investigators were of non-surveillance-targets collected under 702 authority, and a May report by the New York Times found the NSA is harvesting millions of photographs from emails and other communications under section 702, including those of Americans.
Contrary to a number of misrepresentations following passage of the Massie-Lofgren amendment to curb Section 702 searches, shutting the backdoor on warrantless searches:
- Does not prohibit Intelligence Agencies from reviewing emails and telephone calls to foreign based terrorists. In fact, intelligence Agencies may search databases without restriction for any foreign nationals' communication – terrorist or not –they only need to get a warrant when searching for US persons;
- Does not provide greater protections to terrorists than criminals. Instead, it provides Americans with the level of protection – due process – that our criminal laws and Constitution require before the government is allowed to wiretap phones or read emails;
- Does not prevent surveillance of calls such as between a 9/11 hijacker in San Diego and al Qaeda in Yemen. A separate program sufficiently addresses situations such as this in the current version of the USA Freedom Act;
- Does not prevent the use of collected information in emergency situations. All of the authorities required to search the database for Americans contain an emergency exception.
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