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NCAC has joined a bipartisan coalition of 44 organizations to urge members of the House of Representatives to vote “yes” on the USA RIGHTS amendment and “no” on the FISA Amendments Reauthorization Act (S. 139) if the USA RIGHTS amendment does not pass. The vote will likely take place on January 11, 2018. These bills modify Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which has been used by the government to unconstitutionally collect Americans’ communications without a warrant or individualized approval from a judge. Despite the fact that Section 702 explicitly prohibits the targeting of US citizens and residents, the government has routinely engaged in these “backdoor searches.” The USA RIGHTS amendment is necessary to both protect citizens’ privacy and impose much needed accountability and transparency upon government surveillance of US citizens.
The proposed FISA Amendments Reauthorization Act exacerbates, rather than resolves, these concerns. The bill does not meaningfully reform the government’s practice of performing backdoor searches and would allow warrantless searches for US citizen information for broad foreign intelligence purposes, which could include information about foreign affairs that are unrelated to national security. These searches violate the Constitution and undermine Americans’ privacy.
By contrast, the USA RIGHTS amendment contains meaningful reforms to Section 702, which are imperative given our government’s historical abuse of surveillance authorities, contemporary noncompliance with this authority, and the danger posed by potential future abuses. The USA RIGHTS Act would close the so-called “backdoor search loophole” and prohibit the collection of domestic communications and permanently end “about” collection. It would also establish a 4-year sunset of Section 702 and provide transparency around the number of U.S. persons surveilled.
The full letter is available below and we encourage all those with an interest in privacy to read it fully and contact their representatives to voice their opinions.