WASHINGTON — On Thursday, 20 members of Congress sent a letter to House Judiciary Committee leaders demanding robust reforms to Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act, which is scheduled to “sunset” on Dec. 15, 2019.
The letter, led by Reps. Earl Blumenauer and Rashida Tlaib, urges Congress to adopt critical reforms for multiple reasons, but particularly in response to the acute threat to civil liberties posed by the Trump administration.
Additional signers are Reps. Donald S. Beyer Jr., Judy Chu, Lloyd Doggett, Jesús G. “Chuy” Garcia, Raúl M. Grijalva, Debra Haaland, Eleanor Holmes Norton, Alan Lowenthal, Grace Meng, Gwen Moore, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Frank Pallone Jr., Bobby L. Rush, Jan Schakowsky, José E. Serrano, Mark Takano and Nydia M. Velazquez.
“Despite Congress’s efforts to reform this unprecedented mass surveillance through the USA FREEDOM Act, the government has since used Section 215 to collect sensitive information on innocent people,” the letter reads. “Therefore, we are writing to urge the Committee not to reauthorize these provisions without bold reforms to protect the privacy and civil rights of everyone in America, particularly the most vulnerable communities currently under attack by the Trump administration.”
“We don’t believe that any administration should have these sweeping powers, but this administration poses a unique threat to the most marginalized communities in the United States,” said Free Press Action Government Relations Director Sandra Fulton. “This Oval Office has been openly hostile to protesters — particularly protesters of color — immigrants, queer people, journalists and anyone else who questions Donald Trump’s actions. It’s hard to believe that we’re even debating whether to extend spying powers for a president facing an impeachment inquiry for allegedly abusing his authority to punish political foes.”
“Members of Congress, and in particular those representing the nation’s most vulnerable communities, should seize this historical moment to speak out against any extension of dragnet-surveillance powers,” Fulton added. “We build sunsets into national-security legislation to give Congress a chance to determine if a law remains necessary. And the PATRIOT Act, which was deeply problematic to begin with, has not aged well.”
“The representatives who have signed this letter, in particular Representatives Blumenauer and Tlaib, have drawn a much-needed line around the PATRIOT Act,” said Demand Progress Counsel Sean Vitka. “While mass surveillance affects all of us, it does not affect us all equally. The government has abused the PATRIOT Act and other foreign-intelligence surveillance authorities for more than 18 years. Democrats in Congress must now choose whether to give Donald Trump and his administration continued authority to conduct mass surveillance, or to protect the constituents that he is actively targeting.”