WASHINGTON — On Monday, a coalition of 30 digital-rights, social-justice and civil-liberties organizations sent a letter urging the leadership of the House Judiciary Committee to allow Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act to expire unless Congress enacts robust reforms.
Earlier this year, the Trump administration asked Congress to reauthorize the NSA’s authority under Section 215 to gain access to the domestic communications of people across the United States. This would allow the NSA to collect metadata from hundreds of millions of phone calls and text messages.
“Our millions of activists include members of the communities that the United States government has unlawfully surveilled in recent history and that the Trump administration is expressly threatening now,” reads the letter, which was organized by Color Of Change, Demand Progress and Free Press Action. “We oppose any legislation that does not end the Call Detail Records (CDR) program and substantially constrain the remainder of surveillance conducted under the Patriot Act and related authorities.”
The NSA program permits the mapping of relationships among members of marginalized communities and distant associates of targeted individuals, even when intelligence officials don’t suspect most individuals in those communities of wrongdoing.
“The deeply problematic Patriot Act granted sweeping spying powers that no administration should have, and they’re particularly dangerous in the hands of Trump,” said Free Press Action Government Relations Director Sandra Fulton. “This administration’s openly hostile policies are harming the most vulnerable communities in America. And over the last two years, we’ve seen leak after leak of documents showing the FBI targeting Black protesters fighting for racial justice. More recently we’ve learned that the Bureau is also spying on folks protesting inhumane immigration policies at the border. Unless House and Senate leadership work together to end the CDR and severely limit other Section 215 authorities, this disturbing trend will only worsen under Trump.”
“If Democrats can't secure an overhaul of the Patriot Act, they should use their majority in the House to ensure no reauthorization of Section 215 passes under their watch. The expiring provisions cannot survive without Democratic support,” said Demand Progress Policy Counsel Sean Vitka. "It would be unconscionable for a Democratic Party-controlled House to extend the power to conduct mass surveillance under this administration, especially given that government’s long and continuing history of misusing that power."
On Mon., Sept. 9, the Fourth Amendment Advisory Committee is convening a congressional briefing including both Fulton and Vitka to discuss what policymakers need to know before Congress considers reauthorizing Section 215’s surveillance powers. The CDR will expire on Dec. 15 unless Congress wrongly decides to renew it.