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WASHINGTON — On Monday, Senate leadership plans to push through a vote on the USA Freedom Reauthorization Act of 2020, legislation that would reauthorize abusive government spying powers that expired on March 15. 

The Act passed the House on a 278–136 vote, but with significant bipartisan opposition from civil-liberties champions in Congress and from leading privacy, racial-justice and constitutional-rights groups, including Free Press Action.

If signed by the president, the bill would reauthorize Section 215 powers Congress established under the USA Patriot Act in 2001. Section 215 is the provision national-security agencies cited in the past to support their unwarranted collection of phone records of hundreds of millions of innocent people in the United States.

A bipartisan group of House Representatives and Senators has called for meaningful reforms to federal spying powers, including Section 215. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has prevented Sens. Steve Daines, Patrick Leahy, Mike Lee, Ron Wyden and others from offering any amendments that would better protect the privacy rights of Americans.

Free Press Action Government Relations Director Sandra Fulton made the following statement:

“Senator McConnell is blocking any congressional vote on amendments or alternative bills making essential reforms to this harmful spying program. We saw similar efforts to silence dissent and debate when the House Judiciary Committee cancelled a markup of the Reauthorization Act and rushed the bill through a floor vote after a senior member of the committee said they would offer pro-privacy amendments.

“If McConnell’s push through the Senate succeeds, it would renew the government’s power to warrantlessly acquire billions of data points on every person in the United States. These are terrifying powers to hand to President Trump, considering his record of surveilling and abusing marginalized communities — but as we’ve seen, the president’s supporters alike have complained that these overbroad powers were used against the Trump campaign, too.

“This reauthorization of unchecked spying passed the House despite bipartisan opposition from a growing number of civil-liberties champions. Democrats joined Republicans to say that this legislation didn’t do enough to protect everyone’s privacy rights. 

“Opposition to this legislation is gaining momentum on the Hill. That’s one of the reasons McConnell is pushing so aggressively for a vote today while so much of the nation is focused on the coronavirus crisis. It’s unthinkable to extend these spying powers to the same agencies that have so often sidestepped safeguards and ignored Americans’ fundamental privacy rights. Every senator should vote against the USA Freedom Reauthorization Act and demand more reforms and restrictions to curb runaway government surveillance.”

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