Press Releases

Rep. Lofgren Calls on Barr to Disclose Basis of Surveillance of Protesters

Attorney General Barr cites general “law enforcement powers to detect and prevent crime” as basis for surveillance of protesters

July 28, 2020
CONTACT: Sean Vitka, (570) 798-7678, [email protected]

During Attorney General William Barr’s hearing before the House Judiciary Committee today, Representative Lofgren called for answers to roiling questions about the government’s deployment of advanced surveillance techniques against protesters across the country. Citing the potential deployment of cell-site simulators, face recognition, and dragnet surveillance of internet activity, Representative Lofgren demanded the Attorney General explain the legal basis on which this warrantless surveillance is based. The exchange is available here.

Attorney General Barr said in part that he “cannot speak to those instances if in fact they occurred,” and added that “most of our cyber activities are conducted by the FBI under their law enforcement powers to detect and prevent crime.”

“This is about the privacy of all Americans, and it’s all being violated,” Representative Lofgren responded.

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

“Today, Attorney General Barr refused to acknowledge whether the government is conducting dragnet surveillance of internet activity. He further refused to acknowledge widely reported mass surveillance practices that he may have authorized when sending the DEA and other agencies after protesters. The public needs to know whether Attorney General Barr thinks President Trump can conduct mass surveillance of protesters without Congressional authorization.

The Attorney General has personally authorized lawless, mass surveillance in this country before, and did so by relying on radically aggressive interpretations of executive power, by secretly abusing statutory authority, and by hiding it under the DEA. Representative Lofgren is asking critically important questions. It is frighteningly plausible that Attorney General Barr has told the Trump administration it may conduct domestic mass surveillance with effectively no limits, potentially even in the absence of Congressional authorization. The consequences would be staggering and the chilling of free speech is already being felt.

The planes are in the air. We need these answers now.”

On July 21, Senators Leahy and Lee sent a letter to Attorney General asking related questions with a deadline of August 7. That letter notes that “any surveillance conducted in the absence of statutory authorities and congressional oversight would be extraordinarily concerning and illegal.

Last week, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence released questions to the nominee for general counsel of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. Senator Wyden asked this question and got the following answer (presented in full):

QUESTION 8: Does the government collect web browsing and internet search history pursuant to Section 215? If so, what are or should be any limitations on such collection or the dissemination and use of such information? Does the government collect web browsing or internet search history pursuant to FISA Pen Register/Trap and Trace authorities?

ANSWER: I believe it is important for the IC to use its authorities appropriately against valid intelligence targets. The amendments to Title V of FISA made by Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act expired on March 15, 2020 and, to date, have not been reauthorized.

Attorney General Barr’s refusal to answer Representative Lofgren’s questions today adds to concerns that all of this may be occurring in secret without Congressional authorization or oversight.

Demand Progress Education Fund and the FreedomWorks Foundation have published many resources about Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act at In 2013, Edward Snowden revealed that the government was secretly using Section 215 to collect all calling records of all customers of major telephone providers, which is only one of the ways this authority has been abused over the past two decades.