Congress will barely have time to recover from tryptophan-induced drowsiness when it returns next Monday for a critical week in surveillance reform.
The House Judiciary Committee will begin its long-anticipated markup of a surveillance reform bill. Expect a bipartisan group of reformers to incorporate ideas from the well-crafted and balanced solutions of the Government Surveillance Reform Act into their bill.
The champions of the surveillance status quo are not resting either. Undeterred by the recent revelation of a secret telephone surveillance program being run out of the White House, supporters of the status quo will attempt to make an end-run around reform by trying to win an extension of Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) by including it in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).
PPSA joined with 32 other groups, ranging from the American Civil Liberties Union and the Brennan Center to Americans for Prosperity and FreedomWorks, to call on Members of Congress to resist any effort to try to extend Section 702 by attaching it to must-pass legislation. Our letter warns against extending Section 702:
“In its current form, this authority is dangerous to our liberties and our democracy, and it should not be renewed for any length of time without robust debate, an opportunity for amendment, and – ultimately – far-reaching reforms. That process should begin with the judiciary committees, which have primary jurisdiction over legislation affecting Americans’ constitutional rights and civil liberties, including FISA. Bypassing this process by slipping an extension of the law into the defense authorization bill during conference would demonstrate a blatant disregard for the civil liberties and civil rights of the American people.”
The letter notes that even a short-term reauthorization is unnecessary given that under current law the government will be able to conduct surveillance under Section 702 until April 2024.
The danger, our letter warns, is that the government might take advantage of any short-term reauthorization of the law to go back to the FISA Court and obtain another one-year authorization for the surveillance. “Given this likelihood, even a two-month extension of the law could result in a de facto extension of Section 702 surveillance into 2025. Congress cannot in good conscience greenlight such a measure after the egregious abuses that have taken place …
“We urge you not to betray the trust of the American people by following such a course of action.”
That’s tough language. It also reflects how much will be at stake when Congress comes back next week.
Contact your Members of Congress to let them know you expect them to stand firm on surveillance reform.