Efforts to Protect Individual Privacy

After Snowden leaked the NSA’s dirty secret to the world, Americans are rightfully concerned about the government’s snooping and spying. Most Americans were unaware that their own government was trampling on their Fourth Amendment rights. We’ve also learned that the NSA was acting far beyond the scope of what Congress authorized in the Patriot Act (Section 215) and in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (Section 702). To address some of the misuse and abuse, the House passed H.R. 2048, the USA Freedom Act, this week. But, while this bill is an improvement over current law and a step in the right direction, it’s not enough—that’s why I voted against it.

Under Section 702 of FISA, the government collects the content of an individual’s calls, texts and emails – all without a warrant – and then later searches that information again without a warrant. Congress can and must do more to stop bulk data collection and protect the Fourth Amendment. I’ve introduced H.R. 2233, the End Warrantless Surveillance of Americans Act, to prohibit warrantless searches of government databases for information that pertains to U.S. citizens. It also works to close loopholes (like “back door” searches) that allow government agencies to use commercial products for surveillance.

In another effort to protect individual privacy, I introduced H.R. 2255 that would make the American Community Survey voluntary. Under the Constitution, the federal government must conduct a census every ten years to account for the population, but that is all that is required. The Census Bureau has gone further, sending a mandatory survey called the American Community Survey to 3 million Americans each year. This survey asks intrusive, personal questions – like does anyone in your home have a mental illness? And what time do you come to and from work? –questions that if not answered, carry the weight of a criminal penalty. It’s an abuse of power for the Federal Government to force Americans to divulge information that they feel uncomfortable providing and to penalize them if they refuse to respond.

 

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