Warrantless Surveillance: Forgoing privacy in the name of security.
Posted: January 12, 2018|Category: Open Government Category: Privacy
If we’ve learned anything over the years it should be that bills cobbled together and rushed through for passage NEVER seem to have anything good come of them. But alas, this scenario played out yesterday when the House of Representatives voted – with bipartisan support no less, including Rhode Island’s own Congressman Jim Langevin – to potentially expand the government’s ability to spy on us.
If you’re angry with Rep. Langevin’s vote, let him know. You can reach his office here. But don’t forget to give Rep. Cicilline a call to thank him for standing up for our privacy rights – his contact information is here.
So what exactly did the House vote on? Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA.) Remember way back to 2013 when we first met the now famous Edward Snowden? He educated the American people on the government’s unlawful use of Section 702; spying on emails, text messages and other forms of electronic communications without a warrant. Section 702 was set to expire at the end of 2017, but had been extended until January 19th or until Congress acted on one of several bills addressing Section 702.
Like most surveillance related debates, the Government did its job in assuring members of Congress that Section 702 is a necessary and useful tool in the war on terror – allowing them to gather information on “targets.” But thanks to a pretty large loophole, more than just these targets get caught up in what are known as backdoor searches. These searches allow the government to gather information without a warrant simply by asserting the “need” to look for evidence of a crime or foreign intelligence. An amendment seeking to close that loophole was voted down prior to the final House vote. Instead, Rep. Devin Nunes’ bill could in theory reverse any privacy gains we’ve made by codifying these illegal surveillance practices.
So why should we care? For a lot of reasons, but the biggest is that we’ve essentially allowed the government to spy on innocent people – completely unchecked - in the name of national security. Some people are ok with giving up a little bit of freedom if it means they are “safe.” But many journalists, activists, critics of the government and other marginalized groups know that a government with the ability to spy unchecked means being targeted for simply doing your job, or expressing yourself as the Constitution guarantees.
There is still hope that the Senate will not just vote to rubber stamp what the House has sent over. In the name of privacy and the 4th Amendment, members of the Senate should not allow passage of this legislation without first addressing the seriousness of this government overreach. Neither Senator Reed nor Senator Whitehouse has expressed their views on this bill publicly. They need to hear from you.