The Spies Among Us and Government Abuse of 702
by Ted Poe on June 17, 2016 at 11:33 AM
Almost 3 years have passed since Edward Snowden revealed the extent of surveillance that was occurring on U.S. citizens. Edward Snowden is no patriot. However, the alarming information about the NSA’s abuse of power he revealed cannot be ignored. Until Snowden, most Americans were unaware that their own government was trampling on their Fourth Amendment rights.
Most people did not know their every move could be tracked by Big Brother. They trusted that this agency acted purely in the interest of national security to keep us safe. Post 9/11 and with two ongoing wars, many believed that government surveillance—including warrantless searches and seizures—was limited to foreign nationals, not American citizens.
That would be consistent with federal law and the Constitution. But unfortunately, this is not always the case. In recent years, we have learned that the agency has misused and expanded the intent of Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). NSA uses Section 702 as a means to gather not only data but content and to allow law enforcement to later search this data for information about American citizens without a warrant. Because it gathers and searches content of individual communications, I believe Section 702 is more intrusive than even Section 215 which has garnered significant attention.
FISA permits the collection of such data of a suspected agent of a foreign power, but the federal government is also storing and later searching the content of emails, text messages and phone calls of American citizens —all without a warrant. In the course of this collection, the data of American citizens, many of which have done nothing wrong or illegal, gets collected. That kind of reverse targeting of American citizens is not what Congress intended, is inconsistent with the Constitution, and it must stop. It’s time for Congress to reign in this blatant violation of the Fourth Amendment and stop the warrantless searches of Americans.
This issue—protecting the Fourth Amendment—has unified liberals and conservatives. My colleague Congressman LOFGREN and I may not agree on every issue before Congress, but we agree on this 100 percent. Earlier this year, Congresswoman ZOE LOFGREN (D–CA), Congressman THOMAS MASSIE (R–KY) and I introduced H.R. 2233, the End Warrantless Surveillance of Americans Act.
The bill would prohibit warrantless searches of government databases for information that pertains to U.S. citizens. It would also forbid government agencies from mandating or requesting ‘‘back doors’’ into commercial products that can be used for surveillance. The legislation mirrors an amendment we offered to the USA Freedom Act when it came up last year. Failure to address this gaping loophole in FISA leaves the constitutional rights of millions of Americans vulnerable and unprotected.
This bill also ensures that the federal government does not force companies to enable its spying activities. The NSA has and will continue to violate the constitutional protections guaranteed to every American unless Congress intervenes. Until we fix this and make the law clear, citizens can never be sure that their private conversations are safe from the eyes of the government. Last year, the House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed similar legislation as an amendment to DOD Appropriations and I unanimously passed one provision of this bill as an amendment to the DOJ appropriations bill.
Yet, we have still not seen any action on the standalone bill. Why wouldn’t Congress move on an issue that has so much bipartisan support? We need to push this standalone legislation and also push that 702 be significantly reformed when FISA is reauthorized to ensure that information regarding American citizens can NEVER be searched by law enforcement unless it was collected through a search authorized by a warrant.
Technology may change but the Constitution does not. It is our duty to make this right and ensure that the Fourth Amendment rights of the people we represent will no longer be trampled on by the NSA. The Fourth amendment right against unlawful search and seizure must be protected in both the physical and digital worlds at all times. Thank you for coming today and I look forward to working together to work towards this goal.
And that is just the way it is.