Privacy Advocates Urge House to Vote Against Unconstitutional Warrantless Spying Renewal

Civil liberties advocates called on the House of Representatives to vote against reauthorizing the U.S. government to spy on citizens without a warrant, as lawmakers headed toward a vote on re-upping Section 702 of the FISA Amendments on Thursday.

“The House should soundly reject this bill, unless it is amended to provide real protections for Americans’ privacy,” said Elizabeth Goitein of the Brennan Center for Justice in a statement.

“By codifying a warrantless surveillance program into law, and giving the U.S. government access to millions of Americans’ private emails, text messages and phone calls, S. 139 further jeopardizes the privacy rights for those communities.”—Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Mich.)

The law is scheduled to expire in April, and privacy rights groups argue it’s allowed the NSA to monitor communications by Americans without obtaining a warrant, though its officially stated purpose is to target non-citizens living abroad.

Thursday’s vote on the FISA Amendments Reauthorization Act (S. 139) would renew the law for six years and would grant the government the additional right to complete “about” collections—the surveillance of any citizen who is mentioned in a communication that the NSA has collected. The agency would only need a warrant to begin such monitoring if the person was thought to be involved in criminal activity not related to national security.

“These protections must include a warrant requirement any time the government seeks to read Americans’ e-mails or listen to their phone calls, as well as an end to so-called ‘about’ collection that sweeps in tens of thousands of wholly domestic communications,” said Goitein.

Several lawmakers have joined critics in speaking out against the new understanding of Section 702.