Sunlight and 26 others call for an end to secret, warrantless searches of Americans’ data

Reps. Thomas Massie and Zoe Lofgren. (Photo credit: Official file photos)

Within the next 36 hours – perhaps as early as tonight – we expect Reps. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., and Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., with the support of a number of other strong advocates, to offer an amendment to H.R. 2685, the Department of Defense Appropriations Act of 2016. Sunlight and 26 other groups are calling on the House of Representatives to support it – and to make sure it is included in whatever appropriations legislation is ultimately adopted.

As we explain in the letter:

First, the amendment would defund warrantless government searches of the database of information collected under Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 using U.S. person identifiers, absent certain circumstances. Although Section 702 prohibits the government from intentionally targeting the communications of U.S. persons, it does not explicitly restrict deliberately querying communications of Americans that were “inadvertently” or “incidentally” collected under Section 702. Moreover, following an apparent change in the NSA’s internal practices in 2011, the NSA now is explicitly permitted under certain circumstances to conduct searches using U.S. person names and identifiers without a warrant. In March, James Clapper, the Director of the Office of National Intelligence, confirmed in a letter to Senator Wyden that such warrantless queries of U.S. person communications are being conducted.

Second, the amendment would prohibit the use of appropriated funds to require or request that United States persons and entities build security vulnerabilities into their products or services in order to facilitate government surveillance, except as provided for by the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act.

This is the same as a bill that passed last year with an overwhelming 293 votes. But that doesn’t mean this is a sure bet; it’s incumbent on anyone who cares about this issue to reach out to their lawmakers and make their voices heard as soon as possible. Indeed, last year, after passing with 293 votes, it was stripped out of the omnibus that ultimately became law.

Look up and reach out to your representatives here, and read the letter below.