ACLU Criticizes House Passing Bill that Massively Expands the Government’s Power to Spy on Americans without Warrant

By Shriya Kali Chittapuram

WASHINGTON, DC – The ACLU Friday strongly criticized the U.S. House vote to greenlight a bill to extend Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act for another two years, broadening the federal government’s authority to clandestinely monitor Americans without warrant, and introducing a novel form of “extreme vetting” for individuals entering the country.

The ACLU said, “In recent years, the law has morphed into a domestic surveillance tool, with FBI agents using Section 702 databases to conduct millions of invasive searches for Americans’ communications — including those of protesters, racial justice activists, 19,000 donors to a congressional campaign, journalists, and even members of Congress — without a warrant.”

Referencing the 2023 Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board 702 Report, “When the government wants to obtain Americans’ private information, the Fourth Amendment requires it to go to court and obtain a warrant.”

According to the PCLOB report, the government’s rationale behind Section 702 hinges on surveilling non-U.S. citizens abroad for foreign intelligence purposes, yet inadvertently ensnaring Americans’ communications.

The PCLOB report also stated that, “Over time, however, this provision has transmuted into a tool for domestic surveillance. FBI agents have combed through Section 702 databases for millions of Americans’ communications, spanning protesters, activists for racial justice, campaign donors, journalists, and even congressional members, all without the safeguard of a warrant.”

Another example from the PCLOB 702 report noted, “For example, following external oversight reviews at FBI field offices, DOJ discovered a number of queries of the names of individuals involved with the January 6, 2021, breach of the U.S. Capitol, or who were arrested in connection with the Black Lives Matter protests, absent sufficient cause to believe the individual query terms would be in Section 702-acquired information.”

Kia Hamadanchy, the senior policy counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union, said, “Despite what some members would like the public to believe, Section 702 has been abused under presidents from both political parties and it has been used to unlawfully surveil the communications of Americans across the political spectrum.”

Hamadanchy underscored the dangers of expanding surveillance powers without concomitantly instituting a warrant requirement, arguing that it paves the way for prolonged violations of Americans’ civil rights and liberties.

As per the 2023 PCLOB 702 Report, the FBI’s unimpeded perusal of Americans’ communications underscores the extent of this surveillance.

In the past year alone, the ACLU report said the FBI executed over 200,000 warrantless “backdoor” searches, a practice facilitated by a remarkably low threshold.

The ACLU added “an FBI agent can type in an American’s name, email address, or phone number, and pull up whatever communications the FBI’s Section 702 surveillance has collected over the past five years.”

The amendments advocated by leaders of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI) were all endorsed by the House, despite bipartisan efforts to insert safeguards.

An amendment mandating a warrant prior to scouring Section 702 data for Americans’ communications failed to pass by a narrow margin of 212-212, as stated in the ACLU report.

About The Author

Shriya, known as Kali, Chittapuram is in her final year at UC Riverside majoring in Psychology with a minor in Law & Society. Kali has had a huge passion for law since high school, and aspires to attend law school in the near future to study Film & Entertainment law. In her free time, Kali loves to write, draw, and even act in films and theater.

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