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WASHINGTON — On Thursday, the Trump administration asked Congress to reauthorize the National Security Administration’s authority to gain access to the metadata of domestic communications of people across the United States. The authority, granted under Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act, allows the NSA to indiscriminately collect metadata from hundreds of millions of phone calls and texts.

The White House is seeking this reauthorization even though it acknowledged that the program has been indefinitely halted.

Earlier this week, Free Press Action and allies sent a letter urging leadership of the House Judiciary Community to enact meaningful reforms to Section 215, including repealing the government’s statutory authority to operate the metadata-collection program.

The letter was signed by more than 35 digital-rights, social-justice and civil-liberties organizations, including Access Now, the Arab-American Institute, Color Of Change, Demand Progress, Freedom of the Press Foundation, New America’s Open Technology Institute and People for the American Way.

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

“The White House is calling for reauthorization of a program that security agencies have used to spy on innocent people, violate their privacy and chill free speech. The NSA program permits the mapping of relationships among members of marginalized communities and distant associates of targeted individuals, even when most individuals in those communities were never suspected of wrongdoing. Historically, authorities have used such overbroad authority to harass members of these communities, especially those who speak out when their rights are under threat.

“Even after the passage of the USA Freedom Act in 2015, which was designed to narrow the government’s dangerous dragnet collection program, the NSA continued to gather metadata from hundreds of millions of phone calls made by people in the country. The White House’s claim that the NSA has stopped using this sweeping approach to surveillance should give little comfort to those whose privacy rights are routinely violated by authorities.

“Ending the Section 215 program, however, must be just a first step in legislative efforts to protect our civil liberties. As we move toward the sunset of Section 215 at the end of this year, lawmakers who care about curbing mass surveillance must demand even more robust reforms to protect our privacy. These spying powers are particularly frightening in the hands of an administration that has so aggressively targeted protesters and people of color and violated the basic human rights of immigrant communities.

“Congress should oppose any efforts to renew the program. The mass-surveillance practices it enabled should not be permitted under Section 215 or any other authority.”

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