Demand Progress statement on the markup of the USA FREEDOM Reauthorization Act

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
February 26, 2020
Contact: Sean Vitka, [email protected]

This afternoon, the House Committee on the Judiciary will mark up the USA FREEDOM Reauthorization Act of 2020, which would reauthorize three Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) authorities set to expire on March 15, including a controversial provision known as ‘Section 215.’

Demand Progress expects a significant debate in the committee today over amendments that would strengthen the USA FREEDOM Reauthorization Act of 2020, and we urge all members of the committee to support them.

The following statement can be attributed to Sean Vitka, counsel for Demand Progress:

“It is wrong for the government to spy on people in the United States based primarily on their First Amendment-protected activities. It is wrong for the government to spy on internet browsing and search histories without getting a warrant. And it is wrong for the government to hide its surveillance of defendants through parallel construction, ensuring they cannot challenge the true origins of their prosecution.

“Yet the USA FREEDOM Reauthorization Act fails to fix these known problems with the PATRIOT Act. In an apparent attempt to placate surveillance hawks on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, the Judiciary Committee has produced a dangerously weak bill that would hand the Trump administration these overly broad spying authorities.

“When it comes to reforming what may be the most notoriously abused surveillance authority in modern history, the USA FREEDOM Reauthorization Act falls far short of the reforms supported by the majority of House Judiciary Committee members, the Democratic Caucus, and especially the public. Demand Progress is urging members to strengthen the USA FREEDOM Reauthorization Act to reflect the severe privacy impacts of the PATRIOT Act and the political will of the Democratic Party. All members—in particular the Democrats who just impeached Donald Trump for abuse of power—must seize on this critical moment to protect their constituents from wrongful spying under the PATRIOT Act.”

More on Section 215:

Section 215 is a provision of the USA PATRIOT Act that for years the government claimed permitted the secret, bulk collection of all phone records of all customers of major telephone service providers. In 2015, the USA FREEDOM Act amended Section 215 and reauthorized expiring FISA authorities. Under the amended law’s Call Detail Records (CDR) program, the government still collected over 434 million phone records in 2018 in pursuit of only 11 targets. Although major issues with FISA and Section 215 persist, including statutory authority for the CDR program, the government shuttered this program, after it caused recurrent, unlawful surveillance of an unknown number of innocent people.

Demand Progress Education Fund and the FreedomWorks Foundation have released several materials explaining Section 215 at www.Section215.org, including an extensive examination of publicly known violations of the laws and rules governing phone records surveillance as well as a graphic timeline of the same.

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