On Wednesday, the House Judiciary Committee approved The NDO Fairness Act, which limits gag orders the government can impose on communications companies when the personal data of their customers have been searched during investigations.
This bipartisan bill, introduced by Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-NY) and Rep. Scott Fitzgerald (R-WI), is now prepared to go to the House floor for passage, assuming House leaders allow it.
This bill arises out of an enduring concern about the ease with which our government can dip into our personal information without us ever knowing such surveillance occurred. Prosecutors and law enforcement agencies in their investigations often access Americans’ electronic communications data, including emails and phone records. The bill passed out of committee today responds to the routine practice of prosecutors issuing a non-disclosure order (NDO) to block service providers – from Apple, to Microsoft, to Google – from notifying their customers that their personal information has been compromised.
Recent news reports reveal that prosecutors have used this method to conduct electronic searches of Members of Congress, major news outlets, and individuals who are merely witnesses – not targets – of an investigation. H.R. 7072 would put guardrails on this practice, requiring prosecutors to demonstrate to a court why they should withhold information about their searches from those Americans they’ve surveilled.
On Tuesday, Bob Goodlatte, former chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and senior policy advisor to PPSA, had sent a letter to committee members endorsing the NDO Fairness Act.
“Drawing on my experience as a former chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, I support this bill because it promotes accountability and prevents misuse of government surveillance authority,” Goodlatte said. “Disclosing such searches, after the fact, is the surest way to ensure that prosecutors can justify their use of the awesome powers granted to them by Congress.”