34 Progressive and Grassroots Organizations Tell Democrats to Reform Section 702 or End It

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: October 3, 2017
Contact: Daniel Schuman, Policy Director, 240-237-3930, [email protected]

Congressional Democrats can’t trust Trump with surveillance powers

Washington, D.C.—Today, a coalition of more than 30 Democratic, progressive, and grassroots organizations — organized by Demand Progress Action — released a letter demanding congressional Democrats oppose reauthorization of one of the most expansive and unaccountable mass surveillance laws in American history, Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act of 2008, absent root and branch reform.

The law is set to expire at the end of the year. It allows the government to conduct “backdoor” searches of U.S. Person information without obtaining a warrant. When used in prosecutions, the government has failed to properly disclose its use of Section 702 authorities to gather information, undermining a key constitutional right. In addition, this information can find its way into criminal investigations unrelated to national security. These types of powers have historically been abused to undermine our democracy and target communities of color and activists.

A bipartisan majority of members of the House of Representatives have twice voted overwhelmingly to end the backdoor search loophole, only to be thwarted by national security hardliners whose senior positions gave them the ability to stymie reforms. This time around, the upcoming sunset of the law changes the political equation. In response, authoritarians like President Trump and Sen. Tom Cotton have started agitating for reauthorization of Section 702 absent any reforms and without another sunset.

In the meantime, the House Judiciary Committee is expected to release legislation soon that will go at least some of the way towards addressing civil liberties concerns and placing the rights of innocent Americans back into the equation. Under the Trump administration, Democrats will be hard pressed to see a silver lining in granting such overwhelming powers to an unbalanced administration that equates Nazis with social justice activists and has expressed an interest in riding roughshod over the Constitution. Democrats must stand strong for reform legislation or let the law expire.

Participating organizations include (in alphabetical order):

18 Million Rising, 350.org, American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, Center for Media Justice, Center for Popular Democracy, Climate Hawks Vote, ClimateTruth.org, Color of Change, Common Cause, Courage Campaign, CREDO, Daily Kos, Demand Progress Action, Democracy For America, Free Press Action Fund, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, Indivisible, Million Hoodies, National Guestworker Alliance, Oil Change International, The Other 98%, Our Revolution, Progressive Change Campaign Committee, People’s Action, Presente.org, Public Citizen, Revolving Door Project, RootsAction, SumOfUs.org, The Nation, Ultraviolet, Working Families Party

“Any Democrat concerned about the wellbeing of vulnerable communities, or about the underpinnings of our democracy itself, must oppose granting President Trump the power to warrantlessly surveil people on our shores. Today, 34 organizations made clear that Democrats in Congress must stand firm and dramatically reform Section 702, or, absent such reform, let it expire,” said Daniel Schuman, policy director at Demand Progress Action.

“Bludgeoning everyday people with mass surveillance erodes our core values of free speech and seeks to cover up the dramatic failure of Trump’s presidency. Trump has been unable to govern in a democracy or get anything substantial done within our democratic processes. Instead, the white supremacist-in-chief seeks to tear down critical constitutional protections and rule by fear, hate, and intimidation,” said Presente.org’s Executive Director, Matt Nelson.

“It is no coincidence that Section 702 has become a tool that effectively suppresses speech and violates the right to be free from search and seizure. Arab Americans know all too well that the protection of civil liberties only becomes an inconvenience or difficult to balance when it comes to immigrant communities and communities of color,” said Yolanda Rondon, staff attorney with the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee.

While the groups support a full sunset, the letter calls on Democrats to, at a minimum, require any extension of this provision come with the following limitations:

  • Section 702 should only be used to acquire information for the purposes of countering espionage by foreign governments, terrorism, and weapons proliferation;

  • An Article III judge must be required to approve a warrant based on probable cause before the government may search information to or from people in the United States for any reason;

  • Agencies may no longer acquire and search information because of a selector’s presence within the content of emails without a warrant, which intelligence agencies call “about searching”;

  • After it has been acquired, intelligence agencies must be prohibited from sharing information they collect with domestic law enforcement entities unless it is protected by the higher standard required for criminal prosecutions, and it should never be shared for low-level or non-violent crimes;

  • Any time Section 702 information is used in an investigation that leads to a prosecution, defendants must receive notice that Section 702 specifically was used in the case so they can assert their constitutional rights in a court of law;

  • Intelligence agencies must report to Congress and the public estimates of how much information about people in the United States has been acquired and how much of it has been reviewed pursuant to Section 702, so as to ensure intelligence agencies have not turned their lenses inward;

  • The Office of Legal Counsel of the Department of Justice must submit any final legal opinion that interprets this provision to Congress and declassify and make public the same as soon as practicable so that we do not have secret law in this country and we can have assurances the law is faithfully being executed; and

  • Reform must include another sunset date within one year of passage so that Congress and the public have an opportunity to reexamine how (and if) the Trump-run surveillance agencies operate under the framework it enshrines.

About Demand Progress Action
Demand Progress Action is a national grassroots group with more than two million affiliated activists who fight for basic rights and freedoms needed for a modern democracy.

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