Press Releases

Statement on House Judiciary Committee Markup of USA Liberty Act

Coalition mobilized in support of the Poe-Lofgren Amendment to Close the “Backdoor Search Loophole”

CONTACT: Sean Vitka | policy counsel | 570.798.7678 | [email protected]

WASHINGTON, DC—Today, the House Judiciary Committee marked up a so-called surveillance reform bill, the USA Liberty Act, without a critical amendment offered by Reps. Ted Poe (R-TX) and Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) to close the backdoor search loophole. Under pressure from Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) and John Conyers (D-MI), the committee voted down the amendment by a vote of 21 to 12.

The House Judiciary Committee took a significant step backward in failing to adopt an amendment to the USA Liberty Act to close the ‘backdoor search loophole,’ through which Pres. Trump is empowered to search Americans’ communications without first obtaining a warrant based on probable cause” said Daniel Schuman, policy director for Demand Progress Action. “Reps. Ted Poe and Zoe Lofgren, and all members of the Judiciary Committee who voted for their ‘Shut the Backdoor’ Amendment, have the thanks and gratitude of all Americans. We expected more of the House Judiciary Committee–especially as the House of Representatives has twice voted to close the backdoor search loophole–but alas it appears the Judiciary Committee will favorably report legislation that not a single transparency, civil liberties, or civil rights has endorsed. Congress can no longer be a rubber stamp for unconstitutional surveillance laws that undermine our democracy.

Just this week, 43 civil liberties, civil rights, and transparency organizations endorsed the Poe-Lofgren “Shut the Backdoor” amendment, which would have closed the “backdoor search loophole,” through which the government searches for Americans’ communications without a warrant. 27 organizations came out in opposition to USA Liberty on October 31 unless it included a provision to close the backdoor search loophole. In addition, 47 organizations declined to endorse USA Liberty Act, introduced in both chambers on a bipartisan basis, in a letter dated October 13 unless it made “further changes to strengthen the warrant requirement for searching databases containing Section 702 information.”

By comparison, 42 organizations on October 24 endorsed the USA RIGHTS Act in part because it closes the backdoor search loophole. Furthermore, even longtime surveillance advocate Sen. Feinstein issued a statement on October 24 and again on Nov. 1 regarding an amendment she offered to require law enforcement to get a warrant. The USA Liberty Act doesn’t meet the Sen. Feinstein litmus test, which is requiring the government to obtain a probable cause warrant before searching the contents of Americans’ communication, a provision that she considers to be required by the Constitution.