Congress ostensibly oversees how federal agencies conduct surveillance that could infringe on Americans’ privacy and Fourth Amendment rights. With this in mind, PPSA joined a coalition that includes six other civil liberties organizations in sending a briefing to Members of the 117th Congress advising them to dig deeper into how the government surveils Americans.
The coalition warned Congress that, in recent decades, “our government has become comfortable acting in ways that violate the letter and the spirit” of the Fourth Amendment.
“For example, the government routinely uses the powers of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, meant to catch foreign spies and their enablers, to watch Americans. It sidesteps warrant requirements through a growing practice of simply purchasing our personal data from data brokers. It deploys new modes of aerial and biometric surveillance in ways that chill the First Amendment rights of Americans to protest and political groups to organize. Relying on secret legal interpretations, it plays verbal games and exploits new technologies to open loopholes in privacy laws that Congress never envisioned.
“Further, there is reason to believe the government may have secretly concluded that intelligence agencies have inherent authority, in the absence of any court order or Congressional authorization, to conduct surveillance on people in the United States.”
The coalition added: “As a result, the government has multiple ways to access Americans’ communications and other highly sensitive information without any suspicion of wrongdoing — let alone probable cause and a warrant. Predictably, these tools for warrantless surveillance have been turned on racial, ethnic, and religious minorities, as well as political activists and opponents.”
The briefing points Members of Congress and their staff to upcoming legislative opportunities to restore balance between current government practices and the constitution. The document suggests Congress:
Other coalition organizations that developed this document include the American Civil Liberties Union, Americans for Prosperity, the Brennan Center for Justice, Demand Progress, Free Press Action and FreedomWorks.
The coalition plans to follow up with webinars on these issues for Members of Congress and their staff.