Defenders of the surveillance status quo in Congress are perplexed by the success of reform proposals and are flailing in response. Some have made national media appearances that give the American people an inaccurate picture of how Section 702 works and how the government uses it to access large amounts of Americans’ personal information without a warrant.
One such champion did not do his cause any favors when he made inflammatory statements on Face the Nation on Sunday about the leading Members of Congress who want to bring Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act in line with the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution. We were told that Chairman Jim Jordan and many of his bipartisan colleagues on the House Judiciary Committee want to “hinder” the process of foreign intelligence and “don’t fully understand” Section 702’s “value and importance to national security.” Moreover, Jordan and his colleagues would “foolishly” cut off one of the most important tools for protecting national security.
What we didn’t hear was anything about Section 702’s long litany of abuses, or the need to protect the freedoms and privacy of law-abiding Americans from government snooping. Protecting Americans’ rights and upholding the Constitution is a duty of the House Judiciary Committee. With primary jurisdiction over this program, the bipartisan team of reformers on the House Judiciary Committee understand this surveillance program all too well. They are working on a bill that has far greater substance than what Sen. Mike Lee has called the “window dressing” reforms of the House Intelligence Committee bill, the full text of which has yet to be released.
It was never explained in this Face the Nation interview that Section 702 – enacted by Congress to authorize surveillance of foreign spies and terrorists on foreign soil – has morphed into a domestic spying program that in recent years has compromised the privacy of Americans millions of times. Add to that the practice of federal agencies buying Americans’ most sensitive and personal information from data brokers and holding and examining it without a warrant, as required by the Constitution, and you have a recipe for a surveillance state.
Champions of surveillance are also wrong when they say that the bipartisan team that wants to reform Section 702 are hindering its passage. The bipartisan Judiciary Committee bill will reauthorize Section 702 for the purpose Congress intended – gathering intelligence about noncitizens outside the United States – while imposing a warrant requirement when the government wants to search Section 702-gathered information about American citizens. The Judiciary Committee, with a long history of protecting civil rights, is expected to soon mark up and pass a strong, bipartisan bill that will give federal agencies the tools they need to protect our national security while safeguarding our constitutional rights.